Before you move into an apartment in Germany, you must give the landlord a deposit (Kaution). The landlord keeps that deposit until you move out. If you leave the apartment in good condition, you get the whole deposit back. If something must be repaired, the landlord uses your deposit to pay for the repairs.

In this guide, I tell you how the deposit works, and how to get your deposit back.

How much is the Kaution?

The Mietkaution is usually 3 times the cold rent1. It's the maximum landlords can ask for1, 2. Some landlords ask for a smaller deposit.

Short-term rentals

The rules are the same for furnished apartments and short-term rentals1. The Kaution is sometimes smaller for temporary apartments1, but it can also be 3 times the cold rent.

When do I pay the Kaution?

Before your lease starts. You don't need to send the money immediately after you sign the lease. You can wait until the day before your lease starts. This helps you avoid apartment scams.

In Germany, we do things in this order:

  1. Visit the apartment
    Never send money before you see the apartment in person. Some thieves ask for a Kaution for apartments that don't exist, and steal your money1. It's a very common apartment scam.
  2. Sign a lease
    Never send money before you have visited the apartment and signed the lease.
  3. Get the keys
    The landlord can wait until the day you move in to give you the apartment keys. Many landlords ask you to pay the deposit before they give you the keys, but this is not legal1, even if it's written in your lease.
  4. Pay the rent for the first month, and at least 1/3 the Kaution
    You must pay 1/3 of the Kaution before the day you move in. You can pay the full Kaution, but you can also pay it in 3 instalments. The landlord can't force you to pay the full Kaution before you move in1. Always pay by bank transfer. You can pay with cash, but it's not very common. If you pay with cash, ask for a receipt. No one pays by check.
  5. Move into your new apartment

What if I don't have enough money?

The Kaution is a lot of money. You get it back later, but you can't touch it during that time. If you don't have the money right now, there are other ways to pay your Kaution.

Pay your Kaution in instalments

You have the right to pay your deposit in 3 parts1: 1/3 of the deposit before you move in, 1/3 before the end of the first month, and 1/3 before the end of the second month1. The landlord can't force you to pay the Kaution all at once1, 2.

Pay with a Mietaval

If you don't have enough money to pay the deposit, you can also open a Mietaval. The bank guarantees the deposit for you, and you pay a small fee to the bank every month.

Get help from the Jobcenter

If you receive ALG I or ALG II, the Jobcenter will also pay your Kaution1.

What if I don't have a bank account?

You can pay the deposit with cash, or by bank transfer. Most people pay by bank transfer. You can send money from any bank account that allows SEPA transfers, not just German banks. You can also use Wise to send money from another country. I have used Wise many times.

You will still need a bank account for other things, so you should open a German bank account anyway.

Where does my Kaution go?

Your deposit will go in a savings account called a Mietkautionskonto. The landlord can't use your deposit money. If you earn interest on that money, it belongs to you, not to the landlord1. You can also agree with the landlord to invest the money somewhere else.

When do I get my Kaution back?

Usually, less than 6 months after you move out1. The landlord must return your Kaution in a reasonable time1. There is no legal limit, but 6 months is normal1. It should not take more than 6 months without a good reason.

The landlord usually keeps your Kaution until they know how much utilities (Nebenkosten) you used. Sometimes, you used more water and heating than expected, and you must pay more. The utilities bill is adjusted once per year, with the Nebenkostenabrechnung.

After you get the utilities bill (Nebenkostenabrechnung), and everything in the Übergabeprotokoll is repaired, the landlord must give your deposit back. They have no other reason to keep your deposit1.

If your rent is reduced while you live somewhere, you will get part of your Kaution back. That's because the Kaution can't be more than 3 times the cold rent (Kaltmiete)1.

Will I get all of my Kaution back?

This depends on the condition of the apartment. If the landlord has to make repairs, they will use your deposit to pay for them. They can't make you pay to fix normal wear and tear1, 2. They can't make you pay for damage that was already there when you moved in1.

If you don't return all the keys, the landlord can make you pay for missing keys. If you lost some keys, the landlord can sometimes change all the locks in the building, and make you pay for it. This can be very expensive. They can use your Kaution to pay for it. If you have liability insurance, it will pay for this1. That's why you should have liability insurance.

What happens when you lose apartment keys ➞

When you give back the apartment keys (the Wohnungsübergabe), you fill a handover document (Übergabeprotokoll). In this document, you describe the condition of the apartment, and what needs to be repaired.

After you move out, the landlord has 6 months to find what must be repaired1, §548 BGB. After 6 months, they can't find more things to repair.

When you move out, always fill an Übergabeprotokoll. The landlord can't charge you for problems that are not in this document1. They can't discover more problems later and use your deposit to fix them1. Record everything in the Übergabeprotokoll, and take a lot of pictures. Don't let the landlord fill the Übergabeprotokoll alone. Don't sign it unless you agree with everything in it. You can even bring a witness or a lawyer with you1.

The landlord can only use your deposit to make repairs or pay your debts1. They can't keep your Kaution to punish you. If they make repairs, they must give you a detailed invoice with the cost of repairs1, 2. They must show receipts for everything1. They can't charge you for things they do not repair1.

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