Finding an Apartment or Room in Berlin – A Guide (2017)

Moving to Berlin? This Berlin rental guide explains the housing types, necessary documents, and more for finding an apartment or WG sublet room in Berlin.

Getting Started

Berlin is exploding. The Local.de reports that it is growing twice as fast as expected. Luckily for newcomers, Berlin is still has an incredibly low cost of living in comparison to other European capitals and German cities. According to Expatistan, a 45 m2 (480 ft2) furnished studio will cost you between 569€ and 840€ a month, depending on the neighborhood. A sublet (WG) room can run you anywhere from under 200€ (if you’re very lucky) to 700€ a month (for an impeccably furnished room in a nice neighborhood). Most rooms run between 300€ – 500€ a month, with 450€ a month being a reasonable middle point. However, certain neighborhoods like Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte are reaching near-Munich prices. If you want to explore rental prices more, see our list of average rental prices in Berlin.

Mieten vs. Untermieten vs. Wohngemeinschaft (WG)

These are the first German terms that you should learn if you are interesting in moving to Berlin. Mieten means to rent, in the sense that you are the primary resident and person of contact for the property. Untermieten means to sub-let or sub-rent, in the sense that the primary renter rents the apartment to you while keeping official ownership of the rental contract. Lastly, a Wohngemeinschaft (WG for short) is a flat-share / sublet room. WGs are typically apartments shared by young professionals or students, wherein each sub-letter has their own room but shares common spaces like a kitchen and (if you are lucky) a living room. Many WG listings will advertise themselves as a WG Zimmer, which translates to “sublet room,” which is the same as a WGRead here to learn more about types of WGs.

Before you begin your rental search, think carefully about which type of accommodation is right for you. Each, as we will see, has its own legal connotations and difficulties of attainability.

Warmmiete and Kaltmiete

Two more terms you should learn are Warmmiete (“Warm rent”) and Kaltmiete (“Cold Rent”)Warmmiete means that all utilities are included in the rental cost, which typically includes internet as well. Kaltmiete means that utilities are not included. The good listing sites will have a filter for Warm- and Kaltmiete.

If you are searching Kaltmiete and do not see a price breakdown on the listing that shows the additional costs, be sure to ask what a typical month’s rent during the winter a summer costs, so you don’t get any bad surprises when the heating bill is 50 Euros. Warmmiete is generally safer in a WG, so you don’t get slammed with a bill because your roommate likes to take 45 minute showers every morning. However if you are looking for your own apartment and tend to be frugal, Kaltmiete can save you money. Read here to see what questions you should ask when looking for and visiting apartments and visit RentIndicator to see a frequently-updated list of rental averages for apartments and rooms in Berlin.

Apartments – To Rent or Sub-Rent?

Typically, your first accommodation in Berlin will not be through a standard Mieten contract. Unless you have access through your employer, are moving from within Germany, or are just plain lucky/well-off, it can be extremely difficult to find your own apartment to rent from the get-go. German landlords typically demand a comprehensive (German) paper trail, including a SCHUFA Auskunft, which is a German credit record (SCHUFA stands for“Schutzorganisation für Allgemeine Kreditsicherung”), private liability insurance (around 50€/year), and – get ready for it – a Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung (literally, “rent debt freedom certificate”) which is a letter from your previous landlord stating you do not owe any rental debts. You will also need to provide your last three pay stubs to prove you can pay the rent. In order to receive a SCHUFA, you typically will need to have had a German bank account and official German address for at least several months. Certain banks are easier for expats to join than others – see our guide. In order to provide a Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung, you will also likely need to already have lived in Germany and have an Anmeldung (residence registration). In place of these documents, first-time renters and students will often have their parents sign a SCHUFA, stating that the parents can take on any financial debts from rent.

For those who do not already have a German paper trail but want their own apartment, it is much easier to look for apartments that are untermieten (sub-rented). These apartments are typically furnished and offered for shorter time periods by families away for work and vacation. They are often also rented at a premium. The documentation requirements for these apartments tend to be less stringent and agreements are often struck between friends or acquaintances. The downside is that your rights as a renter are quite weak so if something goes wrong or your rent suddenly increases, tough luck. Most of the time, however, apartments that are untermieten are a safe bet and a good way to begin to establish a paper trail if you plan on renting your own apartment in the future.

The Wohngemeinschaft (WG)

Many students, young professionals, and budget-conscious live in a Wohngemeinschaft (WG). WGs are sublet rooms in apartments that are either rented or sub-rented and rented out to  2-4 people. You typically do not need to provide any documents, like a SCHUFA. Instead, most WGs will screen shortlisted applicants by inviting them over to the apartment to show them the apartment, chat, and ascertain whether they are a good fit for the apartment. If you cannot speak German or want to live in an WG where a particular language is spoken, Wohnaroo is one of the only sites that allows you to sort listings by language – see our current listings.

To learn more about different types of WGs , what to write when you contact a WG listing, and what questions you should ask during the meeting, read our Guide to Wohngemeinschafts.

Choosing the Best Berlin Neighborhood to Live In

Now that you have an idea of what rental type you might be looking for and what documents you need (or don’t), you can begin to think about where in Berlin you may want to live. Certain districts, like Kreuzberg, Neukölln, and Friedrichshain, are younger districts with clubs, dive bars, and hipster hangouts. Others, like Prenzlauer Berg, are more established and family-friendly. If you know where you will be working, it is generally a good idea to find a flat that is along a direct transportation line to your office.  I live 3 stations directly south of where I work – my total commute is 15 minutes with the U-Bahn (subway) and 20 minutes by bike. Beforehand, I lived in northern Prenzlauer Berg and needed at least 35 minutes and a transfer to get to my office.

You should also consider what locality factors are important to you. Do you value parks over city life? Then consider something near Plänterwald or Treptower Park. Do you like frequenting in bars instead of cafes? Then perhaps Friedrichshain makes more sense than Prenzlauer Berg. Unsure of what neighborhoods you might like? Read our Guide to Berlin’s Neighborhoods.

Unless you are already familiar with Berlin or have a trusted friend who lives here, the best course of action is usually finding a short-term rental near your work so that you can take a month or two to explore the city on your own and discover what neighborhoods you like the most. Berlin’s diverse neighborhoods accommodate all tastes, but it can take a while before you find one that suites your own. Taking time to find an apartment will also give you a chance to establish a German paper trail you can use to (later) rent an apartment.

Necessary Documents and Prerequisites for Living in Berlin

The specific paperwork you need to move to Berlin will depend on a host of factors, such as whether you are a citizen of an EU country. However, those renting apartments will generally need a SCHUFA, a Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung, private liability insurance, and pay stubs for the last several months to prove you can pay the rent.

Having a German phone will also help tremendously. Some listing sites will have a field where you can put your phone number when contacting listings – it is generally a good idea to fill this out. Some listings will also explicitly ask you only to contact them via phone. It will give the impression that you intend to stay here, and are already established to a certain degree. This is coming from a guy with an American international phone plan.

Important: If you are planning on staying in Berlin long-term or planning on working/studying, make sure to clarify that you need an Anmeldung, or residence registration. You will need this to get a Steuernummer (tax number) and other important documents. Although not offering one is technically illegal, many shorter-term accommodations will try to discourage you from registering or even flat-out refuse. See our guide on questions to ask when visiting apartments and WGs.

Open a German Bank Account

If you are planning on signing a proper contract (which is not always the case with WG rooms), you will also need to open a German bank account.

Trying to make all your payments using international transfers can inconvenience landlords or agents and make them less likely to give you the apartment. You also need a German bank account and German address to qualify for a SCHUFA, so if you think you will ever want to rent an apartment in the future, it will be a good idea to set up an account and officially register yourself as soon as possible, even if you are in a WG now. Landlords may even accept a SCHUFA just 2 months after you set up an account, according to Jon Worth (at Jonworth.eu).

To see what banks are best for expats and more, read our Guide to Opening a German Bank Account.

Looking for Apartments in Berlin

Using a Broker

There are two general options for finding apartments in Berlin: going through a real-estate broker or looking at free listing sites. Real estate brokers can make your life a lot easier – navigating the difficult German bureaucracy and language barriers for you. For those who prefer going through a broker, Ring Deutscher Makler has a code of conduct and vets its members, ensuring you a standard of quality. Holger at Berlin Projekte has also been recommended as an English-speaking broker dealing in long-term properties. Check out this thread on Toy Town Germany about real estate brokers in Berlin. Be wary with brokers, however, as they may be more interested in recommending neighborhoods where they have listings, rather than neighborhoods they think would make the most sense for you. Their advice and expediency also comes at a premium – typically a 6.96% commission fee.

Using Online Listing Sites

Alternatively, you can look at a host of websites, including Wohnaroo, to find non-commercial listings and bypass the brokerage fee. Many of these sites, such as Craigslist, can have outdated interfaces, poor designs, and limited filtering options – which means you can spend hours scrolling past listings that don’t even interest you. You should also exercise caution against any suspicious listings that ask you to send or wire payment before actually seeing the apartment. See our Tips For Personal Safety and Avoiding Scams. This process can also be extremely tedious; it took me over two months to find a WG room the first time around. These reasons are why I created Wohnaroo, the only site which has dozens of filters and a real-time, filterable geolocation map.

In addition to Wohnaroo, you can find apartments and sublet rooms on the following sites (generously aggregated by Settle In Berlin):

Using free listing sites is generally the best way to find cheap rooms and apartments. To improve your chances on sites like this, include a link to your Facebook profile, write your message in German (only of course if you can speak it), and make sure you give the impression that you actually read the listing. Keep an eye out for listings that sneakily ask you to write a specific subject line in the contact form to filter for people who didn’t read the description. Some general advice: simply pasting a message template to every listing will not get you very far. Personalize it with names, shared interests/hobbies, and anything else you can do to catch the lister’s attention (“The cat on the living room poster looks just like mine!”).

ASK FRIENDS AND USE FACEBOOK

Probably the best way – for those who have the luxury of knowing people in Berlin before they move – is asking friends and friends-of-friends about available rooms and apartments. The best deals and quickest turnovers tend to happen by word-of-mouth, so don’t hesitate to reach out to a (distant) friend or former colleague to see if they know available rooms. Friends I reached out to referred me to websites and Facebook groups to help me get a head-start in my housing search. On that subject, I would highly recommend joining Facebook groups like WG-Zimmer & Wohnungen Berlin and Wohnaroo, which have frequent posts for available rooms.

Last notes

At the end of the day, finding a room or apartment in Berlin will take a lot of patience, time, and effort. Make a habit of looking at your favorite listing websites daily (I tended to do it after work for an hour) so that you catch listings right as they come. If you are not hearing back from listings, try refining the messages you send – perhaps people respond to humor more than a dry blurb about your professional life. Now go out there and find a home!

 

If you have any questions or ideas of how I can improve this post, please contact me at: jacob@wohnaroo.com. As with all content on Wohnaroo.com, this article should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice or have questions about what documents you need to to move to Germany or Berlin, please contact a lawyer. This content should be used as a supplement to official, legal channels of obtaining visas and other required documents or information. 

Wohnaroo is a listing site for apartments and sublets in Berlin and beyond. It is 100% free, has no ads, and was created by an expat who wants to help others find a home in Berlin, a city he loves.