The Housing Situation in General
There are different types of accommodation in Germany. Student accommodations run by Studentenwerk (a student organisation for the city) or private organisations (e.g. Easy Living in Berlin). And there are rooms/apartments for rent on the open market. Regardless of whether it is a student or private accommodation, there are two broad categories of living arrangement. They are (1) a shared apartment (Wohngemeinschaft, WG) or (2) a private apartment.
In a WG, you will have to share the kitchen and shower with different people (it ranges between 2 people to as many as 15-20). Naturally you will have to adapt to the habits of your fellow flatmates. Most of the private WGs have fewer occupants and you have more “control” over who you live with. In smaller WGs byStudentenwerk, the tenants are usually responsible for the housekeeping duties of the apartment whereas in the larger ones, there are cleaning services for the common areas.
WGs tend to be cheaper and have a shorter waiting list than the private apartments.Further, it provides you with a great opportunity to meet with Germans and other international students.
The German housing market has become rather tight in recent years due to limited new supply and increase in demand. Therefore many students experience difficulty in finding accommodation even after a few months into the semester! In cities with particularly bad housing crunch, it is advisable to apply for Studentwerk housing and any other student accommodation before or immediately after you receive your acceptance letter, and check the waiting time for your desired residence! If it is unlikely that you will be assigned a Studentwerk accommodation, you may consider going to Germany before your semester starts to search for an accommodation. The landlord or master tenant typically wants to meet the potential tenant/flatmate before signing the lease agreement, which is good for you too as you get to view the flat and check that it is not a scam. Alternatively, you can engage a real estate agent to search for you. However few people have to resort to this.
One thing to note: majority of the flats and rooms in Germany are rented out without furniture. Please read the advertisement carefully. For a list of acronyms and abbreviations used in the housing market, check out this website.
Before Moving In
Should you arrive in Germany without an accommodation, you could book a few nights at the Youth Hostel, hotel (€€€!), or AirBnB while you go about on your apartment search – it is always much easier to secure a rental agreement once you are in Germany as opposed to trying to secure one from overseas. Should all possible options be unavailable, please write in the SSAG FB group – we’ll see if we can find other nice and friendly Singaporean students who are willing to take you in a for a few nights while you search for your room! You can also write in to your university’s international office, the local Studentenwerk or the DAAD Coordinator in Singapore for urgent assistance – while you should try avoid a situation where you might not have a place to spend the night, we are sure there will be someone out there who can assist you when things somehow do not work out!
The Studentenwerk or the student services is an organisation affiliated with the university and city where the university is located – these are the people whose services are funded by your Studentenwerk contribution. The Studentenwerk offers different types of rooms in various dormitories and most only require an online application. Please take note that the university application is separate from the application for an accommodation offered by the Studentenwerk! Some Studentenwerken allow you to apply for a room way in advance, even before you are accepted or matriculated into a university; this allows you to secure an accommodation while you settle all your administrative tasks upon arrival! Should you be unable to secure a room in the student residences of the Studentenwerk upon arrival, you can always consult them in person for help (they will usually have an office somewhere around the university); they may have an accommodation freed up at the last minute and also often work with landlords in the private market offering accommodation options for students.
Our advice would be to book an accommodation with the Studentenwerk as soon as the applications open, because the waiting period for Studentenwerk apartments can be anything between 1 month to 2 years in cities where the housing shortage situation is very severe. Apply as early as you can – you’ve nothing to lose!
For more information on which Studentenwerk is responsible for the city you are studying in, please check the database here!
Wohnheime affiliated with other Organisations
Apart from the Studentenwerk, there are other organisations that provide student residences. Most are affiliated with the Catholic Church and the Lutheran church. Some student residences are non-denominational, some are run by socio-political organisations which would require you to subscribe to their organisational ideals and viewpoints, some require you to be registered with a state church, some require an interview on top of a formal application, while some don’t require any of the aforementioned; in any case, they are mostly friendly to international students and most people fit in easily. What’s more, they tend to have the craziest parties around?
Searching on the Private Market
If all the above options fail, do not worry! Always remember to check the Schwarzes Brett (Notice Board) of your university, which usually lists apartments by students who may be leaving the city for an exchange semester (check for Zwischenmiete) or in some cases, for good. These offers tend to be more varied in terms of options and may even be cheaper (per square meter) than the Studentenwerk. In fact, quite a number of German students also tend to search for apartments on the private market at some point during the course of their study, be it to form their own WG, or simply to find a more private accommodation which would provide the kind of quiet and personal space that they would need in later semesters – partying every weekend and accommodating the lifestyle of others in the same flat can be quite tiring after some time!
Should you not have the chance to check your university’s Schwarzes Brett, there are several websites online which will help you with finding your apartment. It is always good to check WG-Gesucht, Immobilien 24 or Studenten-WG, where rental offers for apartments of different sizes catering to various budgets are often put up. You can also try the apartment rentals section of English-speaking forum, Toytown Germany – a forum specially catered for expatriates and hence offer more flexible arrangements for those searching for an apartment (especially in Munich or Berlin) from overseas.
One important thing to note is to protect yourself from scammers: do not transfer any money to anyone until you have seen the apartment, signed a contract and received your keys – you are not legally required to pay for anything until you have signed your contract and have taken over the apartment, so do not fall for scams asking you to transfer some kind of ‘deposit’ to secure an apartment before you have even seen the apartment together with the legal landlord.
It is also important not to divulge too much private information (especially related to your bank details as they can use this for various purposes, such as making direct debit payments); if necessary, arrange to meet the potential landlord in person – it is much easier and more comfortable for both parties. Similarly, because of potential scammers, most German landlords will not rent you the flat if you only discuss it with them over the phone or through E-Mails, so it is common that he or she will call for an open viewing where they would meet you in person to find out what kind of person you are – you will have to ‘fight’ for the apartment if you really love it!
You may also opt to engage the services of a property agent (typically known as Immobilien-related services); be aware, though, that most agents and some online services would charge service fees (Provision) for helping you secure an apartment – this can sometimes end up on the pricer side. It is, however, common to pay a refundable Kaution or deposit at the point of signing your housing contract – this would generally be returned to you once you moved out, after the apartment has been checked for defects. If you do not get the apartment of your choice the first time round, it’s okay – just try harder because eventually you’ll be able to find one as good or even better!
Check out the Just Landed website for more information on housing. All the best in your house hunting!