Applying for a Wohnung in Berlin

PHOTO: Erin Porter

My little Berliner on the Wohnung search

When we found out we were pregnant, we knew a two-room (one-bedroom in American) apartment was no longer going to cut it. So we went on the hunt for a three-room, ideally with a balcony, high floor, a little class and great transportation links. Slowly at first, and then with increasing sincerity as the baby finally made her arrival.

As always, I was horrified at the lack of light fixtures, kitchen and even floors in some Wohnungen (apartments). I checked out the toilets. My wandering eye searched further afield from my preferred neighborhoods (known as Kiez in Berlin) of Friedrichshain to nearby Lichtenberg, Wedding from Prenzlauer Berg. Surely Marzahn couldn’t be that bad…could it? Despite my lowering standards, we are still without an apartment to accommodate our growing family.

Why is renting in Berlin so hard?

The hard truth is that looking for a house in the Hauptstadt is hard. Competition is fierce, rental companies aren’t particularly motivated to make things work for the renter (evidenced by the insane viewing hours – 10:30 on a Tuesday anyone?), and applications take organization, great credit and earnings and a lot of luck.

Because of the city’s complicated history with abandoned buildings and squatters rights (once known as Schwarzwohnen), landlords are understandably picky about who can move in. Once someone is in a building, it is near impossible to get them out. It can take years and thousands of euros to successfully evict a tenant.

How to Apply for an Apartment in Berlin

Door to Berlin

Door to Berlin

But a necessary step on every expat checklist is finding your little piece of home turf. So what is the expat in Berlin to do?

When I put out feelers on social media asking how others secured their apartment in Berlin I received some clever ideas and some disappointing answers. One expat photographer designed a pretty cover letter and picture to edge her over the top of potential renters. Another relentlessly called the agency every day and sent new paperwork further asserting his financial dominance over the competition. Others had the depressing tale of searching for ages before finally giving up and taking a sub-par apartment through a friend. We only had our current apartment because we subleased it before the official tenet moved out, taking over her lease and forgoing renovations.

After a lot of searching and a little applying, I am finding the answer to be apply, apply, apply. It is a bit of a numbers game and the more applications you get in, the higher the chance that you will find your happy home. At least that is what I am hoping.

The most infuriating part is you aren’t really sure why you were picked – or not. Did they like that we had a kid, or does that seem a hindrance? We come with a cat and two bunnies. Maybe the pets are a problem, even in a place listed Haustiere erlaubt (pets allowed). Does the fact that we are foreigners scare them off? Do we make enough money? The whole process can be a spiraling pit of self-doubt.

There are, however, some things you should do when applying for a Wohnung in Berlin. Each application is a little different, but in general apartments require:

  • Application or Bewerbungsbogen – The rental agency usually supplies this themselves and it covers the questions you would expect about income, salary, work history and habits. These are available at the showing and online, usually listed with the ad. (We applied to one apartment above a church and their application included questions about religious affiliation.)
  • Copy of your passport – Also include the IDs of anyone living in the apartment with you. We supplied our baby’s thinking it was a bit funny, but the Germans seemed to expect that.
  • Copy of SCHUFA (Schutzgemeinschaft für allgemeine Kreditsicherung) – This official credit check provides an easily readable history of your financial history. It is easy to obtain online or from the hundreds of easyCredit shops around the city.
  • Proof of earnings in the last 3 months (payslips). If you are self-employed, it is recommended that you supply a letter from your Steuerberater (accountant).
  • Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung – A letter from your previous landlord saying your account is in good standing. This should be as simple as calling them up and asking for it.
  • Optional: Anmeldebestätigung (registration of where you live in Germany) or Haftpflichtversicherung (personal liability insurance)

Hopefully an upcoming post will include news of an impending move…and surely with it more headaches. Anyone else have helpful tips on actually securing an apartment in Berlin or simply want to commiserate? Share your comments below. I could use some new ideas.

6 thoughts on “Applying for a Wohnung in Berlin

  1. I found an apartment very quickly without an agent through I also received many offers for viewings through eBay Kleinenzagen as well. I sent many inquiries and asked if my dog was allowed in the initial email. Good luck! 🙂

  2. I have wondered how difficult it would be, for someone such as myself. I am retired and living off of Social Security and a modest savings. I am also a dual German/American citizen. However I have never lived or worked in Germany. How would I deal with things like Shufa and providing Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung, as I have owned my own home for many years.

  3. Pingback: Dressing your Kid for German KiTa | The German Way & More

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