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Size matters – just how big is my German apartment?

img_4866For English-speakers, looking for an apartment to rent or buy in Germany involves a steep learning curve. Both size and fixtures are important. And there are lots of new terms and abbreviations to get to grips with, along with a host of cultural differences. There’s new vocabulary to learn (EBK is a fitted kitchen, BW is a bathtub, KM is cold rent, i.e. excluding heating and warm water, etc.), and measurement in square metres rather than square feet can be confusing at first. Then there’s the fact that German property is advertised according to the number of rooms it has, not the number of bedrooms.

For someone from the UK or USA who is used to seeing listings for 1-bed, 2-bed, or 3-bed apartments and houses, this requires some adjustment. And then there are the 2.5, 3.5 and 4.5-room apartments. What the heck is a 0.5 room? As with everything else in Germany, calculating the size of an apartment or house is clearly regulated. Read on to find out just how it is done, and why it can be so important for both tenants and landlords.

How the size of an apartment/house is calculated

There are two methods that are currently accepted in Germany for calculating the size of a residential dwelling (plus one historical method that applied before 2004 and still applies to older buildings that haven’t been remodelled/modernised in the intervening years):

  • the Wohnflächenverordnung (WoFlV), official German regulation that governs the calculation of “living space” in a dwelling and has applied to all residential real estate constructed or refurbished since 2004.
  • DIN 277, which measures areas and volumes of buildings and is based on classifying areas according to their utilisation, height and function.

If you have a lease that includes the size of your apartment, even if the value specified is given as approximate (i.e. circa XX square metres), your landlord may have indicated which method has been used to make the calculation. If not, the default method is the WoFlV. Because of the exclusions contained in the WoFlV, this method usually results in lower final calculations than DIN 277 (a variation that can frequently amount to up to 20%), so it is probably worth finding out which method has been used.

The Wohnflächenverordnung

Introduced in 2004, the WoFlV sets out which areas can be counted as “living space” and which areas do not count. Given that surveys by the German Tenants’ Union indicate that between 60 and 70% of all leases contain incorrect disclosures on the size of apartments, it is clear that it is not just tenants, but also landlords, who do not always have a firm grasp of the regulations.

An apartment’s “living space” includes:

  • the floor area of the apartment’s interior rooms (i.e. living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, etc.)
  • other enclosed areas, such as conservatories/winter gardens, swimming pools, etc.
  • the floor areas of balconies, loggias, roof terraces, roof gardens, patios or verandas (if they belong exclusively to the apartment).

An apartment’s “living space” does not include:

  • cellar storage rooms (or other storage space) outside the apartment
  • laundry and drying rooms outside the apartment
  • garages and car parks
  • heating rooms, mechanical rooms, technical facility rooms
  • pillars or columns inside the apartment that measure more than 1.5 metres in height or have an area of more than 0.1 sqm.

Measurements are taken of the clearance between the facing edge of each structural component, including window and door frames, skirting/base boards and niches that extend from floor to ceiling and are more than 0.13 metres deep. Among the structural components that are not included are chimneys, stairs with more than three steps, wall facings and cladding.

You know the size of your apartment – what next?

The story doesn’t quite end once the measurements have been taken and you know the size of your apartment’s living space. That would be far too simple – this is Germany, after all!

  • Regular living space in rooms with ceiling heights of two metres or more counts 100%
  • Regular living space in rooms with ceiling heights between one and two metres counts 50
  • Regular living space in rooms with ceiling heights below one metre counts 0%

(This is relevant if you live in a penthouse or attic apartment with sloping roofs)

  • Heated conservatories/winter gardens and enclosed swimming pools count 100%
  • Unheated conservatories/winter gardens and enclosed swimming pools count 50%
  • Balconies, loggias and terraces generally count 25%, although they can be counted at 50% if

a) they were built before 2004 and the apartment hasn’t been renovated since then, or

b) if they are “qualitatively superior” (e.g. large enough for loungers and tables, or south-facing with extended, unobstructed views).

Why is this so important?

Although landlords are not obliged to specify the size of an apartment in a lease agreement, it is important that the size has been calculated correctly because a tenant’s share of an apartment building’s running costs (electricity and lightning in communal areas, snow clearance and gardening costs, waste disposal, maintenance and waste water disposal costs, etc.) are apportioned according to their share of the building’s total area. If your apartment has been measured incorrectly, you could not only be paying more in rent than you should each month, you’ll also be paying a higher share of communal operating costs than you should.

Size discrepancies of more than 10% count as “contractual defects”

If the actual size of an apartment differs by more than 10% from the size specified in a lease agreement, Germany’s courts have confirmed that this represents a “contractual defect”. This means that a tenant has the right to immediately cancel their lease – admittedly not such a great idea at the moment as rental housing is currently expensive and in short supply – or reduce their monthly rental payments (which they can also do retroactively for the previous three years). So, if you signed a lease for a 100 sqm apartment and find out that it only measures 85 sqm, you can lop 15% off your rent and claim the difference (including the difference in shared operating costs) for the last three years.

And what is a 0.5 room?

Any interior room that measures less than 10 sqm and is not a corridor/hallway, kitchen, bathroom or storage room, counts as half a room – which is why there are so many listings for 2.5, 3.5 and 4.5 apartments.

If you have any questions or comments on calculating the size of apartments in Germany, you can contact us via the comments section below.

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