Rental apartments are the norm in Berlin. While some expats buy their apartments most of them, as the Germans, rent. Some even buy an apartment merely as an investment and then let it to someone else, whilst themselves renting another apartment to live in.
If you’re in Berlin all alone you might consider finding a WG (Wohnungsgemeinschaft), a collective of two or more people sharing an apartment. You might make new friends, or worse, enemies… It’s always easier to live with likeminded people. Shop around on the marketplace WG Gesucht, and while having a look at the vacant room, try to meet all of your flatmates to-be before signing a contract. Although most WGs work out very well, we’ve heard some horror stories.
Have we scared you into getting your very own apartment? Well, even though Berlin has quite a few empty apartments and relatively low rents, it’s not always that painless to get that desired lease. As an expat, you’re often seen as a less reliable tenant than a German fellow. Therefore you should be very well prepared before arranging a Besichtigungstermin with a broker or landlord. Dressing up in a business suit, or at least some clean clothes, and having your papers in order might increase your chances in getting that crib considerably.
What documents to bring you might ask. The most important is a copy of your passport and, if you’re already registered with the authorities, your Meldebescheinigung. If you’re employed in Berlin you should bring copies of your last three salary slips (Gehaltsnachweis). If you’re currently not working or are self employed a recent bank statement showing some financial stability could do as well. You should also order a Schufa-Auskunft, a German credit report showing that you’re not having unpaid debts. Last but not least, most landlords want something with a very long name – Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung. This a document where your last landlord grant that you don’t have any outstanding rent debts. You can get this from your landlord, even if you’re currently subletting. If your last apartment was abroad you should have a corresponding document translated to German (some landlords will accept an English version).
Where should you look for that apartment then? The answer is almost always Immobilienscout24, this is the largest marketplace for renting or buying an apartment, house, office etcetera. Other websites are Immoworld, WG Gesucht, and Immowelt. Checking Facebook, the message board at the supermarket, and asking friends are of course also alternatives.
There are some things you should be aware of when looking for an apartment. Taking over a lease from another tenant (becoming a so called Nachmieter) can be a good way to get that coveted apartment. The tenant might ask for an Abstand. This means you have to buy their newly installed kitchen, washing machine, or just a piece of furniture they like to leave behind. If you don’t wanna pay, they will of course choose another Nachmieter. Sometimes you get a really good deal on their washing machine, but you might also end up paying 500 euros for an old sofa you just wanna throw out.
There are scammers lurking around on Immobilienscout and other websites. You often spot them by a too good to be true offer. If you contact them, they will tell you that they are currently abroad and can send you the key to their apartment, so you can have a look yourself. Of course, they want you to transfer a key deposit via Paypal or Western Union… The key? It’ll never show up.