So you moved out of the rented apartment in Germany for a while now, but your landlord still hasn’t returned your deposit back? It is a common issue when renting a home in Germany, and landlords are often hard to deal with. Usually, tenants receive their deposits shortly after they move out. But if it takes a while for your landlord to transfer money, you should start guessing.
Steps to take when your landlord doesn’t return your deposit in Germany:
- Talk to your landlord
- Demand payment in writing, setting a deadline of 2 weeks
- If not successful, go to the local tenants’ association or tenants’ protection association
- If not successful: threaten to take legal action
- Landlord doesn’t react? Go to the lawyer for tenancy law
Renting is expensive for Expats in Germany, plus you always need to pay a high deposit before moving in. Yes, most landlords in Germany will require that you put down a rental deposit. In this article, we explain why your German landlord doesn’t return the deposit back and what to do about it.
Besides, you can avoid giving a deposit in cash to your landlord by getting a guarantee instead. It serves as a security deposit.
What if your landlord not returning the deposit?
So, you haven’t received your rent deposit back, and it has been a while, you should follow these steps to get your money back.
- Talk to your landlord.
- Demand payment in writing, setting a deadline of 2 weeks.
- If not successful, go to the local tenants’ association or tenants’ protection association.
- If not successful: threaten to take legal action.
- Landlord doesn’t react? Go to the lawyer for tenancy law.
Check this article if you are experience any problems with your German landlord.
Things to keep in mind
In Germany, the landlord has all rights to take his time to check the apartment and estimating the claims for the tenant if there are such. Hence, he will keep the deposit for that time. This period isn’t determined by the law and can be up to 12 months.
Landlords can also use the deposit to make repairs or pay tenants’ debts. In that case, they are allowed to keep a partial amount of the rent deposit. The amount will depend on how much tenants own them.
However, if the landlord makes repairs, he must provide a detailed invoice with the cost of repairs and receipts afterward.
Besides, if there are no more claims from the landlord or no further claims are expected, the deposit must be returned to the tenant.
Checklist for moving out
Before taking any action, you should check if you have done everything correctly when moving out. As a tenant, you have particular obligations when renting and leaving the apartment in Germany.
Read more about renting an apartment as a foreigner in Germany.
Have you made cosmetic repairs in the apartment? If you have received the place in a different state as it’s now, you should return it to its original state. Especially, you are obliged to do so if there is a valid clause in the contract.
Payments and debts
Have you paid all your rent and bills (Nebenkosten)? Is the last service charge statement (Nebenkostenabrechnung) not paid or coming soon? The landlord will keep part of the deposit if you haven’t paid. However, he must pay out the remaining amount.
Have you left any damages in the apartment that are beyond normal wear and tear?
Check whether your contract contains a clause on minor repairs. If so, it’s best to replace all defective items right away. It will save unnecessary discussions.
Have you cleaned the apartment properly before moving out? The place must be cleaned thoroughly.
So you have done all these things, but your deposit is still not in your bank account? Then you should follow these steps:
- Contact your landlord
The first step to take when your landlord is late with returning the deposit is to contact him. It’s appropriate to contact him and ask for the repayment.
Have a normal friendly conversation with your landlord. It can be done via email, message, call or meeting them in person.
In many cases, he will have a reason and will explain it to you. If the cause isn’t clear, he might avoid the contact.
- Make it clear to the landlord – send a letter
If the deposit repayment isn’t made yet, request your money back in writing. You should set a deadline. Two weeks to make a payout is considered reasonable.
To inform the landlord, it’s best to use the registered mail service to ensure safe delivery. As a warning, inform them that legal action will follow after the deadline has expired.
After receiving the registered letter, the landlord is either obliged to explain to the tenant exactly why the deposit has not yet been returned or pays the deposit back to the tenant within the deadline.
- Send official Abmahnung (demand letter)
If the landlord doesn’t take action after receiving the registered letter tenant can send an official demand letter or Abmahnung. The official demand letter is applicable only when the landlord breaks your tenant’s rights or doesn’t hold to the rental agreement.
Therefore, Abmahnung makes sense when a landlord hasn’t paid the deposit for a long time (more than 6 months). You can download the example of the warning letter in German here.
What if the landlord ignores your demand letter?
If the landlord still doesn’t react or thinks he can keep the deposit, you can take legal action.
- You carry out the enforcement yourself
You can file the lawsuit at the nearest court.
- Request help from the tenant protection association or a lawyer
If you don’t want to go straight to the court, you can contact the Mieterschutzbund or the local tenants’ association. They charge a small fee for the advice.
They might recommend going to a lawyer for tenancy law. You will need to pay for his services. So consider some additional costs which might arise by getting your deposit back.
The lawyer will ask the landlord to return the outstanding deposit to the tenant. If necessary, the lawyer would have to enforce the tenant’s claim in court.
Get a legal insurance to reduce the costs
Legal insurance is helpful if you ever need to deal with legal disputes, whether with your landlord, your employer, or a stranger. Such insurances cover lawyer costs and other related expenses. Check out our recommended provider for expats.
Additionally, by having legal coverage, you can call a lawyer and get free advice on how to deal with a landlord when in conflict.
Chances of getting the rent deposit back in Germany
In most cases, tenants in Germany get their deposit back. It doesn’t depend on your nationality or residence status.
If the landlord has to make repairs, reimburse unpaid rent, they will use your deposit. But they can’t make you pay to fix normal wear and tear, or damage that was already there when you moved in.
Also, if you don’t return all the keys, the landlord can keep some amount for missing keys. However, if you have liability insurance, it can pay for many things and save your deposit. Read more about liability insurance and how much it costs.
A good practice when renting an apartment in Germany is to fill an Übergabeprotokoll. It lists everything that was in the property and its conditions.
The landlord can’t charge you for problems that aren’t in this document. Record everything in the Übergabeprotokoll, and take pictures of items. Don’t sign the protocol unless you agree with everything. You can also bring a witness or a lawyer to the handover.
If a landlord pays the deposit back but not in the full amount
In practice, it often happens when the landlord returns the deposit but not in the full amount. In some cases, it’s justified. For example, the landlord has to repair the damage you made to the apartment.
Yet, in this situation, the amount he withholds is usually the point of argument. Tenants should request a detailed overview of costs and receipts.
Rent deposits in Germany
Rental deposits are common practice in Germany and are demanded when renting not only apartments but also rooms. A normal rent deposit is usually equal to two to three months of “cold rent”, which excludes ancillary costs or Nebenkosten. It has to be paid in advance before you move in.
A deposit is supposed to cover any damages caused by tenants or any unpaid bills when you leave the flat or house. Theoretically, it can be paid in three installments.
The landlord can demand a maximum of three months’ rent as a rental deposit from the tenant. He keeps that deposit until you move out. If nothing needs to be repaired, you will get the full deposit back. If something needs to be repaired, the landlord will use your deposit to pay for the repairs.
The amount of the deposit doesn’t depend on the length of the rental agreement. The landlord can ask for three rents as a deposit, even if you only stay there for one month.
You can avoid giving a deposit in cash by getting this guarantee instead. It serves as a security deposit.
Security deposits in Germany are very well protected by law. Landlords can only use them to pay for outstanding rent and (after the tenant leaves) repairs.
Tenants are best protected when they fill out a handover protocol (Übergabeprotokoll). Unless the landlord can prove that you had outstanding rent, the court will be on your side.
In that case, you just have to show that you paid the deposit and moved out with a clean handover protocol. The handover protocol will protect you if you decide to take it to the court level.
Furthermore, according to German law, the deposit always belongs to the tenant. Meaning, the landlord has to keep it separate from his other assets and separate from assets belonging to other tenants.
In order to protect both the tenant and the landlord, the money is supposed to be placed in a joint account with both the tenant’s and the landlord’s names on it or an escrow account.
When the contract ends, the security deposit, along with any interests earned minus the cost of repairs, must be returned to the tenant.
In a nutshell, this money doesn’t belong to the landlord in the first place, hence, he can’t use it if the reason isn’t justified.
Also, it’s advisable not to leave the country until you pay off the outstanding bills for utilities or damages.
More on tenants’ rights.
When the landlord can keep a deposit?
Some legitimate reasons for keeping the deposit include:
- Returning the apartment in a different condition than agreed (cosmetic repairs, damages, etc.)
- Not moving out on time
- Leaving behind rent debts
- Outstanding service charges (Nebenkosten)
- Not complying with obligations written in the lease agreement
- Not doing repairs if such were agreed in the contract
If the landlord still has claims against the tenant, he may keep part of the deposit, for example, for an outstanding operating costs bill or damage to the apartment. There is often a dispute as to whether there is damage or whether it’s normal wear and tear.
For instance, ordinary wear and tear include running marks on the carpet, shadows around picture frames, and light switches. In these cases, the landlord isn’t allowed to take your money.
Yet, something like red wine stains on the carpet is considered a damage. In such cases, the landlord is allowed to keep part of the deposit. It’s also advisable to consult a tenants’ association or a lawyer for tenancy law to figure out whether the claim is justified.
Changes in the apartment
Damages in the apartment are probably one of the most common reasons why landlords keep the deposit or at least partially. In any case, if you have caused damage to the apartment, you have to pay for it.
Yet, the landlord can’t charge you the full price of the item. You only have to pay as much as the item is still worth.
Outstanding service charges
Your landlord might charge you some amount due in the following operating cost statement.
Leaving behind rent debts
If there was a time when you missed your rent payment, the landlord can keep the corresponding amount.
There are also some special situations where the law doesn’t say exactly what a landlord can and cannot do. For example, in the case of outstanding claims, e.g., heating, the landlord often retains the rent deposit until all bills have been paid.
Damage of items
Cracked sink – it might be hard to figure out how much exactly you will have to pay for the sick, the estimated use of which is 30 years, for example.
Damage of the door – also for items like doors, the wear and tear period of 30 applies. Hence, if the door is older than 30 years, then the tenant doesn’t have to pay the landlord anything.
Holes in the walls – the landlord can also charge you for making holes in the walls. But they have to be beyond normal use; hence normal holes to hang something don’t count.
Not complying with obligations written in the lease agreement
If, for instance, a rental agreement obligated a tenant to take care of plants in the apartment, but they haven’t, they might need to compensate for it.
Not doing repairs if such were agreed in the contract
Moreover, if the lease agreement states that some renovation work or replacement of items must be made by the tenant, and they haven’t done it – expect some additional charges.
For how long landlord can keep the deposit?
Landlords are allowed to keep your deposit for up to 12 months, but there isn’t a legal timeframe for returning the money. In theory, it can take them years to get back to you. However, usually, tenants get their money back within 6 months.
There is no fixed legally set period as to when the landlord is obliged to repay the deposit. Usually, keeping the deposit longer than actually needed does not give the landlord any benefit since he cannot make use of the money. The usual period is 6 months.
Generally, tenants can only demand the repayment of the deposit at the earliest after the termination of the rental agreement.
Yet, the return of the rental deposit rarely happens immediately after moving out. The landlord will take time to check the apartment and prove whether you need to pay for something extra.
The landlord is granted a so-called consideration period to review the apartment, existing and potential claims, which is up to 6 months. This includes, for example, damages to the apartment, cosmetic repairs that haven’t been carried out, or unpaid rent.
Before that period pasts, you as a tenant have “legally” no right to demand the return of the rent deposit.
Keep in mind the billing period for services
In some cases, the landlord will need to wait for outstanding service charges (Nebenkosten), for example, electricity. In that case, it’s allowed to keep the deposit even for up to 12 months.
It’s an official billing period for electricity or gas suppliers. Hence, the utility bill is adjusted once per year, with the Nebenkostenabrechnung.
The landlord can only keep the deposit in that case if:
- An additional payment is to be expected for the final service charge settlement.
- The part of the deposit which isn’t needed for outstanding bills must be paid back to the tenant.
Nevertheless, a period of two to four weeks is considered common for tenants to get their deposits back. Yet, it has to be decided on a case-by-case basis whether the landlord may retain the deposit for a more extended period.
If you don’t know how long you should wait for the landlord before calling the lawyer or submitting complaints – 6 months is appropriate.
Suing your German landlord
Suing the landlord is the last option you should consider when not getting back the rental deposit. Court and lawyer services are expensive in Germany. Yet, if your landlord is illegally keeping your deposit despite everything, you will need to make a claim to get it back.
Here are some common reasons to go to court:
If a landlord has made a deduction from the deposit for a reason that is not legally allowed, such as normal wear and tear on the property, then you could take your landlord to court.
You can also file suit if your landlord has simply not returned your security deposit or is withholding it and falsely stating that you violated the terms of your lease. It’s recommended to take out legal insurance to reduce the costs of legal disputes.