Rental law in Germany has been revised and changed in many aspects in the year 2001, September 1. One of the most important points that needed clarification since then has now been set clear by Supreme Court Sentence. It concerns the

Length of lease

Unlike in other countries, in Germany a rental lease is normally not limited in time except for some valid reason. As these reasons all concern the landlord and none the tenant, for the tenant it normally means that his contract can be ended from his side with the legal three months notice period of three months to the end of a calendar month.

But what if a landlord insists on a minimum lease like six months or one year during which the tenant has no possibility to give notice and move out? This point has now (December 2003) been clarified by the Bundesgerichtshof, the highest Court Instance in such matters.

It says, if the tenant agrees on waiving the three month notice period for a certain agreed upon minimum length of time, this is binding upon the tenant.This recent sentence by the Bundesgerichtshof (highest court instance in such matters in Germany) has confirmed this.

That means in practice:

If a landlord requests a minimum lease period and wants to exclude that the tenant may move earlier by making use of the three months notice period, he must add a clause in the contract that the tenant waives his right of three months notice for that said period of time. If the tenant signs this, he is bound with that minimum period of lease duration.

For expats who have no real job security this would mean to take care to not sign leases which have such a clause added somewhere in the contract. The standard German rental contract as issued by Haus- und Grundbesitzerverein in Frankfurt, does not include such a clause, but it can be added by a landlord at the end or on the first page of the contract.

(Reference: file number VIII ZR 81/03 BGH)

If such clause has been agreed upon and signed and yet the necessity of moving earlier than expected has come up, the tenant should a) notify his landlord of the fact and b) agree with him to find a "Nachmieter" - someone to rent instead - so that he can get out of the minimum lease earlier. That is legal practice and has been such since many decades. Written notice must be given neverthelesses.

The above is valid for all contracts after 1 Sept 2001. Earlier contracts are treated by the old rental law with its specified notice periods.

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