The tenants of a completely normal multi-party building in Berlin-Wedding were surprised: after some residents had moved out or died, the owner did not simply re-let the three apartments that had become vacant. Instead, he put his own furniture in and advertised it as “furnished apartments.” And that with a significant price increase: the small one-room butze now costs 850 euros warm instead of 350 euros. For the 53 square meter apartment next door, 1222 euros are now due, as reported by the Berlin Tenants’ Association.

The tenant protectors from the capital know many such cases. In the Moabit district, a landlord is currently converting the fourth unit in his apartment building for furnished living. Tenants have to shell out around 2,000 euros a month for the apartments, which are around 80 square meters in size. “The landlord has furnished them luxuriously, advertises temporary living and thus legally circumvents the rental price brake,” reports the tenants’ association.

Furnished apartment, overpriced for rent: A current evaluation by Immoscout shows the extent of this scam in Berlin and other cities. Accordingly, the proportion of furnished apartments in all advertisements has increased steadily since 2018 – and even by leaps and bounds in some large cities. In the five largest metropolises, more than every third offer is now a furnished apartment.

The most glaring development is in the capital: In Berlin, Immoscout even recorded more offers for furnished apartments (51 percent) than for unfurnished ones (49 percent) in the fourth quarter of 2022. Four years earlier, only 13 percent of Berlin’s apartment listings were furnished. The offers are also booming in other cities: in Frankfurt and Munich every third apartment is offered with furniture, in Hamburg and Cologne it is every fourth.

Furnished apartments were originally a niche offer for students or people who only work in the city for a short time. The fact that they have become a mass phenomenon is because landlords can use them to circumvent the rental price brake. “The rapid increase in furnished apartments is partly due to the regulations on the rental market,” says Immoscout Managing Director Gesa Crockford. Because if an apartment is only rented temporarily, as is often the case with furnished apartments, the rental price brake does not apply, says Crockford. “Because of this gray area, the asking rents for furnished apartments are significantly higher and therefore unaffordable for many.”

Immoscout can also prove this with numbers. For normal apartments, asking prices rose from 7.41 euros to 9.32 euros per square meter across Germany between the fourth quarter of 2018 and 2022. In the case of furnished apartments, they climbed much more strongly – from EUR 15.50 to EUR 22.50. In Berlin and Cologne, the rent for furnished square meters even doubled to around 33 euros during this period.

The rental price brake also applies to furnished apartments. However, this can be avoided if the apartment is rented out for “temporary use”. According to the Berlin Tenants’ Association, this not only requires a time limit, but also a special purpose of the accommodation – such as a limited study stay or a longer business trip. But in practice, the “temporary use” is often only on paper, criticize the tenant protectors. And landlords use the construction in sought-after residential areas as a loophole to circumvent the rent control.

And there’s another factor that landlords can use to drive up the rent of furnished apartments: the so-called “furnishing surcharge”. The landlord may demand a surcharge on the rent for the furniture that he lets the tenant use. The more expensive furniture he puts in the apartment, the more he can open. In addition, the surcharge should be based on the value of the facility, but leaves the landlords considerable leeway. It is not even required that the surcharge is shown separately in the rental agreement.

Tenants are legally entitled to information about the costs of purchases. And when it comes to the furnishing surcharge, it must actually be taken into account that the current value of the furniture decreases as it is used. De facto, however, it is difficult for tenants to prove that the landlord used unfair calculation methods.