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Setting up a Household in Germany

A primer on the basics of moving into your new place

So, all the official paperwork is done. You've got the residence/work permit, the household goods have been shipped, you've arrived in Germany and, after perhaps a strenuous search, you've found just the right house or apartment you'll be living in for the foreseeable future. And, you've taken the all-important step of registering your new address with the local authorities at the Einwohnermeldeamt.

Depending on the type of place you picked, your rental agreement may well determine what sort of responsibilities you'll be facing in regards to utilities and other necessary services set up; numbers and types of individual agreements you may have to arrange with different suppliers; and the types and amounts of payments or deposits you may be required to make to get things going.



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Apartment Rental

If you've rented an apartment in a multi-unit building, it's most likely that your monthly rent payment is either cold (Kaltmiete) or warm (Warmmiete) or some variation of the two. Cold rent means that you pay basic rent for the residence and there are no extra costs included in your monthly payment. Warm rent means that your monthly payment includes the basic rent for the residence and additional costs - called Umlagen or Nebenkosten. Nebenkosten can include heating, water, wastewater disposal, trash and recycling pick-up, furnace inspection and other expenses. It is important to make sure you know exactly what is included in the Nebenkosten and how the costs are for the various items are calculated before signing a lease.

Many of the services and utilities included in the Nebenkosten can generally be considered "communal" services. In other words, the suppliers provide the service to the building owner and the owner then has to calculate the amount charged to each unit. Some other services, such as electricity, internet and phone service may be charged to individual units through separately installed meters and connections.

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Stand-alone House Rental

If you're moving into a stand-alone house as a renter, the number of different utilities and services companies that you may have to deal with directly could be quite different than if you were renting an apartment. Again, much depends on the rental agreement you have with the landlord. Outside of the electricity and telephone, you may be looking at having to buy your own heating oil, getting cable TV if it's available in your area and contacting the local utility companies for trash and recycling bins, water, wastewater, furnace inspection and other services. You may be put in a position to continue existing contracts with suppliers, or having new ones put in place.

For information on "house rules" for apartment living and other aspects of housing in Germany click here to read our article on Housing in Germany.

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Services and utilities; contracts and payments

Here's a list of the basic services and utilities that you'll probably need along with basic information on continuing contracts, transferring contracts, finding new suppliers and how these things are billed and paid:

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Heating (Heizung)

Apartments- This is quite often part of the Nebenkosten. The landlord determines the amount to be paid by using different calculations depending on the heating source (oil, natural gas, liquid gas) the size of the apartment or some sort of individual metering of the apartment radiators or other means. A price adjustment may be made from year-to-year based on consumption, price increases and other factors. The landlord normally chooses the supplier. (It may be possible that some apartment buildings have units that are directly connected to a natural gas supplier. In this case the tenant may have the option to choose a supplier. This is an issue that could be taken up with the landlord when negotiating the rental contract.)

Houses - Most houses are heated by heating oil, liquid gas or natural gas. There are some houses that use electricity for heating. Heating oil and liquid gas are pumped into tanks on the premises. There are many different suppliers and prices may vary depending on the time of year an order is placed and the vagaries of supply and demand. If your house is heated with piped in natural gas then the price is determined by a metering system based on consumption. Depending on your contract terms with the landlord, the heating costs may be treated as Nebenkosten. If your contract stipulates that you are responsible for your own heating costs, it may be possible to pay for gas or oil delivered after receiving an invoice. Or, you may be able to enter in a long-term contract with a specific supplier and pay a fixed monthly rate through a standing payment order from your bank (Dauerauftrag). The amount paid over a year would then be adjusted based on the amount delivered in the previous 12 months. You could receive a refund or have to pay extra. The monthly payments would then be adjusted for the next year. If you move in with a tank partially filled, then arrangements will have to be made with the previous tenant or the landlord to pay for what's in the tank already.

Some older houses and apartments in Germany may not have central heating and still have individual stoves/heaters in separate rooms that are run by coal or other fuels. These are called Ofenheizung. In this case the renter would have to purchase the necessary fuel.

Also, in some houses that have natural gas piped in, it may be possible to have gas stove.

An inspection of the furnaces and flues in apartment buildings and houses in done annually by a Schornfeinsteger (chimney sweep). For apartment dwellers this is normally part of the Nebenkosten. It may be the same for some who rent houses. But, if it's not, then the renter has to pay for this service. Payment can be made by bank transfer after receiving the invoice from the chimney sweep.

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Electricity (Strom)

Apartments - Most apartment buildings have a separate electricity meter (Zähler) for each unit. This means that a new tenant has to set up an account with the electric company and is billed directly. The meter should be read when a renter moves in. Payment is usually made every month (in some cases every two months) and the preferred method is through a standing order from the bank. The amount paid is a fixed amount for a designated period of time. It is then adjusted after 12 months based on consumption. Meters are normally read once a year. Whether or not a renter can choose a different supplier may depend on the rental contract and the landlord.

Houses - The situation is about the same with houses as in apartment buildings. An account has to be set up with the electricity company; billing is done directly to the renter; fixed payments are made monthly (or every two months); adjustments are made based on consumption. The big difference is that the renter may have more flexibility in choosing a supplier. The German electricity market was deregulated several years ago and there are a number of different companies available to choose from. When changing suppliers there will probably be some sort of "notice period" required. Details of the length of the "notice period" may vary from company to company.

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Water (Wasser)

Apartments - Water is normally supplied by the municipal waterworks and is almost always part of the Nebenkosten. The landlord determines the cost to the renters based on consumption. Meters are read yearly and costs adjusted for the following 12 months. Some units may have their own meters. If not, the water bill may be based on the size in square meters of the apartment. How water consumption is billed may be part of the rental contract negotiations.

Houses - Houses normally have their own metering system for water. In some cases the cost of water may be part of the Nebenkosten paid to the landlord. In other cases, the renter may have to set up an account with the municipal waterworks. This would require a meter reading upon moving in and getting in contact with the local authorities to set up an account. Billing is normally done every two months and paid through a standing order from the bank. The payment is the same each two months for a year and then an adjustment is made after determining consumption through a meter reading each year.

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Waste water (Wasserentsorgung)

Apartments - Waste water removal is normally part of the Nebenkosten and is handled by the municipality. The rate calculation involves a number of different variables and the landlord normally sets the rate for each apartment. It can be adjusted from year to year.

Houses - The waste water removal costs can be part of the Nebenkosten in your rental agreement. If is left up to the renter to cover these costs, then they have to contact the proper municipal office to set up an account. There is a complex formula that determines the cost for this service for a house. Bills are normally paid every quarter year by standing payment order. Adjustments are made yearly.

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Trash removal and recycling pick-up (Abfallentsorgung)

Apartments - The removal of trash and the pick-up of recycled plastic and paper are normally part of the Nebenkosten. The service is normally performed by municipality. The landlord is responsible for maintaining the bins that are used for trash and paper.

Houses - It's quite possible that the trash and recycling pick-ups may be part of the Nebenkosten. If not, then the renter will have to contact the local authorities responsible for this. Trash containers come in different sizes. The cost for pick up depends on the size of the container. Payment is made twice a year for this service and is best done by a standing payment order.

For more information on recycling in Germany click here.

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Cable/Satellite Television (Kabel/Satellite Fernseh)

Apartments - In areas where cable television service is available it's quite possible that an apartment building has a main cable connection box that allows the landlord to let renters have access to cable TV in individual rental units. Cable TV fees can be part of the Nebenkosten or paid directly by the renter to the cable provider. It normally depends on the system that is set up and the agreement with the landlord. It the former tenant had the service and paid the provider directly, it would be necessary to have the account transferred to the new tenant to continue service. Fees are normally paid monthly by standing payment order.

Where cable service is not available, an apartment building could have a satellite dish installed and make the signal available through internal wiring. Access to the signal may be part of the Nebenkosten. Once access is available a TV viewer may use a receiver to receive the channels that the dish picks up. It's a good idea to find out what satellite signals the dish can pick up. There are receivers that can get the Free to Air (FTA) signals. A viewer has the option to get a paid service through various suppliers. This would entail getting a special receiver from the supplier and setting up an account with them.

If an apartment building does not have a satellite dish that feeds a signal to the units, it might be possible to install your own satellite dish. However, you would need to have permission from the landlord and have a proper place for installation that would allow your dish to receive a signal.

Houses - If cable television is available in your area and your rented house is connected, you can receive the available programming provided you have the right equipment. Cable costs may be part of the Nebenkosten or you may have to set up your own account with the provider. This depends on the terms of your rental contract.

If a house is outfitted with a satellite dish and you have the proper equipment, you can get reception. Whether or not the landlord charges for the use of the satellite dish is part of the rental agreement negotiations. As in apartments, it should be possible to sign up for a paid satellite service directly with a provider.

If there isn't a dish installed on the house and you want to put up your own, then you'll have to get permission form the landlord.

For more information on TV and Radio in Germany click here.

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Telephone/Internet Connections (Telefon/Internet Anschluss)

Apartments - Telephone/Internet connections are almost always the responsibility of the tenant. There is a multitude of different telecom/internet providers offering a wide variety of different plans. It is best to check before committing to a place to see exactly what types of connections are available - especially for the Internet. Some areas are rapidly installing high-speed DSL lines and many cities are installing fiber optic lines. Some companies offer special combination packages at good rates. It may be possible to get Internet from your cable TV provider. You may also have the option of taking over an existing connection in the rental unit. Pay attention to the details of contracts when transferring an existing connection, giving notice to a current provider and signing up with a new provider. It can get complicated.

Payments to providers are normally made through a Direct Debit (Lastschrift) from your bank. A Direct Debit differs from Standing order because the amounts taken out may vary from month to month.

Houses - The tenant in a house, like those in apartments, will most likely be responsible for setting up their telephone/internet connections and paying for them. The procedures are the same; the number of companies offering services is substantial and the speed of Internet can vary from location to location. It may be possible to get Internet from your cable TV provider. In rural areas that may not have any high-speed lines installed, it might be possible to get Internet via satellite. You may also have the option of taking over an existing connection in the rental house. Pay attention to the details of contracts when transferring an existing connection, giving notice to a current provider and signing up with a new provider. It can get complicated.

For more information on telephone and internet in Germany click here.

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Insurance

It is a good idea for all tenants to look into insurances of different kinds. There are different types of policies that cover liability, household goods and contents and there is even legal insurance to help protect you in the event of disputes with a landlord. You can find out more about these at this link.

Household set-up involves a lot of moving parts and can get complicated at times. If you feel overwhelmed, there are specialist companies that can, for a fee, assist you in getting all of this taken care of.

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