German court makes landmark ruling on tenants' right to sublet apartments

German court makes landmark ruling on tenants' right to sublet apartments

The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) has just confirmed that renters in Germany have the right to sublet their apartments in many different circumstances, in what will come as welcome news to thousands of tenants across the federal republic. 

Man brought landlord to court over sublease arrangement

The decision relates to a single case, but will have wider ramifications for all tenants who are currently, or thinking about, subletting. The case was brought by a man in Berlin who had signed a rental contract for a three-bedroom apartment back in 2014. 

He later decided to move into a different house in the suburbs with his family but decided to retain the apartment to use for two or three nights a week when he had to be in the city for work. He therefore decided to save costs and sublet two of the three rooms to other tenants. As required by German law, he sought permission from his landlord, who agreed. 

However, the landlord then later changed his mind and retracted his agreement to the sublease. The tenant therefore decided to bring the case to court. 

Court makes landmark ruling for tenants subletting in Germany

The court siding in favour of the tenant makes this a potentially landmark case, as it suggests that tenants in Germany are allowed to arrange long-term sublets, even if they don’t use the property as their main residence. 

German law states that the landlord is only obliged to give their permission for a sublet if the tenant has a “legitimate interest”. Usually, this applies to circumstances like divorce or separation or losing a job, where otherwise the tenant might be unable to cover the rent on their own. However, the new ruling suggests that someone wanting to keep a property for professional reasons, but subletting it to reduce their costs, could also in future be considered a “legitimate interest”. 

In its ruling, the BGH said that tenants’ interests should be placed above those of the landlord, so long as the landlord isn’t significantly inconvenienced. "According to the legislative value judgement, the legitimate interests of the tenant therefore take precedence over the interests of the landlord," the ruling reads. "They only have to take second place if the intended transfer of use would be unreasonable for the landlord." 

The case will now go back to the Berlin Regional Court to be heard for a second time. 



Abi Carter

Managing Editor at IamExpat Media. Abi studied German and History at the University of Manchester and has since lived in Berlin, Hamburg and Utrecht, working since 2017 as a writer,...

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