Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Paying for your apartment and all the related needs in Germany is a somewhat different experience than in the US. Never mind all the other differences - like the lack of kitchens in many German apartments, or the fact that a much higher percentage of Germans are renters. Even just paying is totally different.

In the US, each month we paid rent to our landlord. This covered whatever the landlord's costs of owning the place were - property taxes, repairs, etc. - and water, which by law is paid by the landlord in Massachusetts. All other utilities were billed to us directly by the companies - electricity, gas, whatever else. So, each month we paid a little set of monthly utility bills as well.

Here, we pay the landlord rent monthly, but we also pay a monthly sum called the Nebenkosten. The Nebenkosten is intended to cover certain utilities, such as heat and water. (Ours is 130 EUR/month.) The bills for these go to the landlord, not to us. We do pay our electricity ourselves, however. At the end of the year, if the actual cost of our utilities (etc.) is higher than what we paid to the landlord in Nebenkosten over the course of the year, then we have to pay the remainder at that time. If we pay more than the actual costs, we get some back.

Here's where the problem comes in. By law, the amount that renters can pay in Nebenkosten per month is capped according to the size of the apartment. I think they need to revise the caps. Per the utility companies, the amount we use of everything is right on for two adults. But at the end of last year, we still owed 840 EUR in Nebenkosten at the end of the year. This year, we owed 800 EUR. This is a pretty painful payment to make! But we aren't allowed to pay more per month in Nebenkosten. So, of course, we just have to set it aside ourselves. The landlord sends us a big itemized list of everything we're paying for with the Nebenkosten. I don't know - seems to be everything there - water for the garden? Trash pick-up? Electricity for common areas? I'm starting to wonder if the base rent goes to anything at all other than just pure income for the landlord. Some of these things - like electricity in common areas - are also illegal to explicity charge renters for in Massachusetts. That is supposed to be covered by the rent. I guess it's nice to know what we are paying for. But it only ends up begging the irritating question of what the rent itself actually covers!


  1. A caveat: I am a landlord. I have also paid rent while living in Germany, so I guess I have experience on both sides of the fence!
    The Nebenkosten (supplementary costs) will always include things like building insurance, water, trash removal, street cleaning, AND costs accruing from communal areas in a condominium (lights in the the stairwell, repairs to the roof, etc.) Some things are optional, like who picks up the bills for cleaning the stairs-- there are regional differences here: in southern Germany there is a rotation system ("Kehrwoche") which is handled by the occupants; here in northern Germany the rental agreement will designate whether the landlord or the tenant is responsible.
    Many buildings in Germany (ours is one of these) have communal heating systems (ours actually comes in the form of hot water piped into the neighborhood from a local heating plant) and these will be paid by the landlord, who then passes on the costs to the tenant.
    I must admit I didn't know that there are caps to the Nebenkosten, but on the other hand, I am a terrible businessman and charge rents well under the norm because I tend to rent to people I know and like. My rental agreements have been "with heating included" ("Warmmiete") and I have just been hit with a monster bill from the power company which I cannot pass on to the renters. When the lease runs out I am going to have to figure out some way to deal with this--I suspect heating bills are going to continue to rise, global warming notwithstanding.
    This means my lifestyle is not as extravagent as it could be but hey! my tenants don't complain much!
    Anyhow, if you ever have questions about this kind of thing, feel free to conatct me.

  2. [i]I'm starting to wonder if the base rent goes to anything at all other than just pure income for the landlord.[/i]

    The base rent is only supposed to cover property and council taxes, insurance and upkeep (maintenance/repairs) and his income, of course.

    Including your backpay, you're paying 100 Euro per month per person. That's a pretty normal figure for a 2-person household.

  3. Whoa, that's a drastic difference to our situation the first 5 years and this year in the new place (but the square footage is identical between the two, so a comparison is interesting).

    In the old place, heat, water, cable TV, common area cleaning lady and garbage pick-up were included. We got charged 200€ every month and every year got between 200€ and 300€ back, because we weren't using much heat or hot water (hot, cold, and gray water were all metered separately) — at least as compared to the previous tenant.

    Starting this year, in the new apartment, we know we're not ever going to get anything back — or be charged an excess amount — because the terms of our lease don't include electricity or heating the apartment (we pay the local power company directly for natural gas for heat/hot water and electricity we consume) and everything else (including water, surprisingly) is covered by the Nebenkosten, which are 70€ a month pauschal. All of the Nebenkosten-covered services we consume are unmeterable. I think I like this method better than the method of counting everything up and waiting for the yearly accounting and then the bank transfer at the old place.

    Something sounds messed up with your situation though!

  4. It seems to be the same in France. We had a sink in our kitchen we moved in, and nothing else. We still don't even have enough furniture in there because we can't anything small enough to fit.

    I don't understand the extra charges either. We pay an extra 60 € a month for "les charges" but I don't know what they cover or why it can't just be included in the actual rent, because when you have to report your rent to the government for whatever reason, you have to leave out the charges, which makes it seem like you're spending less money than you really are on housing!

  5. Hmm, that does sound a bit off. We haven't rented since 1995 so I can't remember how it worked with our Nebenkostenabrechnung. Are you members of your local Mietverein/Mieterbund? Might be worth signing up - they could take a look and tell you if everything's kosher or not.

  6. I guess it is different for every apartment. My Nebenkosten are about 200 per month and they don't include expensive things like heat. It's our first year living in this apartment, and we haven't yet found out if we owe anything else. But, we did have to pay about 800 to the heating company this year (and we used the heat very sparingly. I don't honestly think we could have used that much more than the guy who lived here before us). So maybe the cost of heating has just exploded in the last few years?

  7. Vailian: Thankfully we don't have to clean up our own common areas in our place, though I've heard of that practice!

    Kato: I'm glad to hear it sounds normal :)

    Cliff: That doesn't sound too bad. I'm still getting used to the once-a-year idea! It seems a long time to wait for all those water/heat bills, but that's when the landlord himself gets them. So it's not possible to go more often.

    Jennie: Interesting to hear that France is the same!

    Christina: We are in the Mietverein - we went to them last year to make sure it all looked standard and they said it was fine. I'm really glad to have that resource!

    Amanda: Ouch! 200 sounds like a lot if it doesn't include heat. Then again ours ends up being that much and we barely turn the heat on, so maybe it really does add up to that much for all the other things!

  8. We are in a pretty small town...ok, it has about 40,000 people, but for me it's small. We got the "bill" for the nebenkostenabrechnung a few weeks ago and we were both shocked to learn that we had to pay 620 Euro in "backpay" or whatever...but we had to pay that, and then our nebenkosten for the next year went up by about 40 Euro. Highly annoying! We barely heat...we had to at the beginning of the year since it was minus temperatures for a few months there. And I'm pretty sure that this will all go up again as we are expecting a little one in September...right in time for the heating season.

    We did get a pretty itemized list of why we had to pay all this to the landlord, but some of it I was highly annoyed with, especially since we had to buy our own kitchen when we moved in. That I still find odd, even with the explanations that Markus has given me.


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