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 nothing needs to be repaired, you will get the whole deposit back. If something needs to be repaired, the landlord will use your deposit to pay for the repairs.

How much is the Kaution?

The Mietkaution is usually equivalent to 3 times the cold rent (Kaltmiete)1. That's the maximum amount landlords can ask for1, 2. Some landlords ask for less.

There is no exception for short-term rentals1. The landlord can ask for the maximum Kaution, even if you only stay there for one month.

When do I pay the Kaution?

This is the normal order of things in Germany:

  1. Visit the apartment
    Never send money before you see the apartment. Thieves ask for a Kaution for an apartment that doesn't exist, then disappear with your money.
  2. Sign a lease
    Do not send any money before you have visited the apartment and signed a lease.
  3. Receive the keys
    The landlord can wait until the first day of your lease to give you the keys.
  4. Pay the rent for the first month, and at least 1/3 the Kaution
    You only have to pay 1/3 of the Kaution before 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.
  5. Move into your new apartment

What if I don't have enough money?

Even if you get your deposit back when you leave the apartment, it's still a lot of money to set aside. There are ways to pay your caution if you don't have the money right now.

Pay your Kaution in instalments

You are allowed to pay the 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 cover 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. This service is also called a Mietbürgschaft.

Get help from the Jobcenter

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

What if I don't have a bank account?

You can transfer money from any bank account that supports SEPA transfers. You can also use Wise to send money from another country. I have used this service many times.

Always see the apartment in person before you send money. There are scammers who will ask for a Kaution for an apartment that doesn't exist, then disappear with your money.

Related guide: How to find an apartment ➞ Common scams

Where does my Kaution go?

Your deposit will go in a savings account called a Mietkautionskonto. The landlord can't use your deposit money. Any interest paid by the bank 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?

When you move out, you usually get your deposit back in less than 6 months1. There is no legal limit, but 6 months is normal1. The landlord must only return your Kaution in a reasonable time1. It rarely takes more than 12 months.

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 receive 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.

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.

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. But they can't make you pay to fix normal wear and tear1, 2, or 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.

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

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 to the handover1.

The landlord can't keep your Kaution to punish you. They can only use your deposit to make repairs, or pay your debts1. 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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Where to find help ➞ Apartment questions

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