How to navigate the Austrian rental market

Finding a place to call home is one of the most daunting aspects of moving to a new country. The Austrian rental system has its fair share of quirks; luckily The Local is here to guide you.

Apartment balcony in Vienna
Finding your Vienna dream home doesn't have to be frustrating if you follow The Local's nine-step guide. Photo: Диана Дунаева/Pexels

The basics

If you’re moving to Austria as a renter, the good news is that it boasts some of Europe’s most reasonable rent costs per square metre, and rental laws offer a reasonably good level of protection for tenants.

The bad news? The cheapest rentals aren’t always available to new arrivals, and there are often some hefty upfront costs. What’s more, depending on the age and type of apartment you rent, you may not be entirely covered by the rental law, which means you need a basic understanding of how things work here.

When you hear about rental prices in international comparisons, remember these are an average, and may not match up to what you see in your own property hunt. Austria’s social housing programme means that people on lower incomes can pay a lot less per square metre, and these programmes are much more widespread than in many countries with almost two thirds of the inhabitants of Vienna living in housing subsidised in some way by local authorities.

If you’re renting on the private market, be aware that the way rent controls work means that people who have lived in the same place for many years often pay a lot less than someone who moves into an identical flat. What’s more, the rental law differs depending on whether you rent an apartment built before or after the Second World War, with the former generally costing less to live in.

But don’t worry, it’s still possible to find a great apartment in Austria for a much lower price than in many European capitals. Here’s how.

Set your budget

It’s a bit of a shock to be told you may need to pay the equivalent of six months’ rent before you’ve even moved in, but that is often the case.

If renting through an agent, you usually need to pay them a one-time fee of one or two months’ rent plus 20 percent in VAT (this fee is called the Provision). Note that this applies if an agent is managing the rental even if you find it independently, for example through one of the sites below. The only way to avoid this is to rent privately, directly from a landlord.

Then there’s the deposit (Kaution), money which the landlord takes as security against unpaid rent or any damage to the apartment. This is typically three months’ rent, but can be up to six.

If you’re moving in somewhere that already has furniture and/or appliances like a washing machine, you may need to pay a compulsory one-time fee for these, called the Ablöse, which means that you then own the furniture. Alternatively, furniture rental may be included in your rent (Möbelmiete).

Don’t forget the actual rental fee! In Austria, rent is broken down to several parts: the basic rent, VAT, and running costs/service charge. If you’ve lived in Germany before, you might know the terms ‘warm’ (rent which includes heating and water) and ‘cold’ (rent which doesn’t include heating or water). These are sometimes used in Austria, but not all that often. Unless you are renting a furnished and serviced apartment, it is usually the case that you pay for your own electricity and gas costs. The key thing is to get a breakdown from your potential landlord about what’s included in their stated fee and which costs you’ll need to pay on top.

As well as electricity and gas, additional household fees include household insurance (which is a good idea anyway, and many landlords will require it), internet, and a TV licence if you plan to have a TV or any device capable of acting as a TV. 

Photo: cottonbro/Pexels

Start your search

Once you’ve worked out how much you’re willing to spend, it’s time to start looking, and you can begin this even before you move to Austria. Some of the most common sites to find a rental apartment include ImmobilienScout24, Willhaben, and the property sections of newspapers Der Standard and Kurier. Students can check out the online noticeboard of the Austrian Students’ Union.

You can also find Facebook groups dedicated to the house-hunt — try searching for terms like Wohnung (apartment) or Immobilien (property) plus the name of your city or region. But beware; these groups often attract scammers, so do your due diligence.

Unfortunately, most property sites in Austria are only available in German. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the vocab you can expect to find, as well as any key terms for you like Balkon (balcony) or Dachterrasse (roof terrace). 

If you want, you can also conduct your search through an estate agent. Note that they will charge you a commission though.

Contact prospective landlords

The rental market in Austria isn’t under as much pressure as in countries like Sweden and Germany, so stories of hundreds of people ‘competing’ for a flat are rare. Still, a well-priced apartment in a nice area is always going to attract interest, and the early bird gets the worm.

If you don’t speak German, it might be useful to get a German-speaking friend to help you with this, especially since it often pays off to contact landlords via the phone rather than email.

Ask your network

Austria’s rental market is well regulated, so finding a place through friends of friends is less common than in many places. But never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth. This is especially true if you want to find a flat-share or a furnished apartment rather than renting a place of your own.

If you’re starting work at an international company, it may just be the case that another employee is leaving the city and needs to pass on their rental contract. The same goes for expat groups on sites like Facebook. If you’re a student, your university should be able to help explain the options available to you, including housing earmarked for international students.

Even if your contacts can’t help you find an apartment directly, speaking to a local is invaluable for tips on up-and-coming neighbourhoods and the prices to expect.

Know your rights

In the rush to find your new Austrian home, you might be tempted to sign a contract as soon as you see an apartment you like. Don’t do this.

Austrian rental law can be complex to understand but it offers tenants a lot of protections. For example, apartments in buildings built before the First World War (called Altbau) are subject to strict restrictions on price per square metre, and there are rules about which costs and repairs are the responsibility of the tenant and which should be covered by the landlord.

Even if you’ve signed a contract agreeing to a certain price or conditions, if those actually go against the law, you are entitled to get your money back. There are various tenant support organizations that help members with legal cases. However, you should note that newer buildings in particular are not always covered by the rental law, so a lot depends on what you and the landlord agree to in your contract. Besides, even if there are ways to recoup costs later, it’s always best to avoid getting into a dodgy agreement in the first place.

Photo: RODNAE Productions/Pexels

Think outside the box

If you aren’t sure yet that you’ll be in Austria long term, it’s worth considering alternative options.

There are companies that offer fully furnished apartments for rent, often with services like weekly cleaning included, although the monthly cost for these can be high. There are also sites like Airbnb, where you can sometimes find options for longer term rentals as well as tourism. Or maybe you would consider renting a room in a shared apartment rather than a place to yourself?

And think about the location as well. Do you need to be in the city centre, or could checking out the suburbs be a suitable option for you? 

Go to viewings

It’s a good idea to see several apartments to get a feel for your priorities, as well as what your budget can get you in different areas. For the landlord, the viewing is a chance to decide if they feel comfortable renting to you, so be ready to tell them a little bit about what’s brought you to your new hometown, whether you have a stable income, and what you like about their property.

Prepare your own questions in advance, and if possible, prepare to ask them in German. 

Some of the key things to ask for are which costs aren’t included in the stated rent (and an estimate of how much these will be), whether the apartment has air conditioning, electric blinds or any other means to cope with the summer heat (this is particularly an issue if you’re high up or have large, south- or west-facing windows).

If you have pets, you’ll need to check they can move in with you too, and if any extra spaces were mentioned in the ad like a garden, children’s playroom, roof terrace, or storage room, ask if you can see these at the viewing.

Beware red flags

We’ve mentioned several times that Austria has some strong protections for renters enshrined in law, but there are still scammers out there. 

One of the most obvious warning signs to look for is a landlord who can’t show you the apartment, or who asks for money in advance of the viewing or contract signing. Note that an estate agent may ask you to sign a contract before the viewing — this is normal and the purpose is to confirm that you will pay their commission (the Provision mentioned above) if you end up renting an apartment they show you, and not reach a private arrangement with the landlord. But check any contracts thoroughly, ideally with a native German speaker and someone who understands Austrian rental law. 

Some ads for rentals may say that it’s not possible to register at the address as a Hauptwohnsitz (main place of residence). This is likely a sign that something dodgy is going on, and what’s more it could cause you a lot of problems since you need an address registration to access many basic services in Austria.

Do you have questions about renting, or any other aspects of life in Austria? Contact our editorial team at [email protected] and we will do our best to help you.

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EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about camping in Austria

Camping in Austria can be a lot of fun, but what are the rules? Here’s everything you need to know about setting up camp in the Alpine republic.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about camping in Austria

Waking up beside a lake or surrounded by mountains is a dream Austrian holiday for many, but it’s important to know the rules about camping before heading off with a tent or campervan.

As the summer season approaches, here’s everything you need to know about camping in Austria.

Is wild camping legal in Austria?

Wild camping – setting up camp outside of a designated campsite – is generally illegal in Austria. This applies to both camping in a tent or sleeping in a van on the side of the road.

Exceptions to this rule do exist but usually only if the municipal authority grants a temporary exception, for example for a school trip or a youth club activity.

A bivouac (temporary camp without cover) is allowed in the event of bad weather or injury, but planned wild camping in the mountains is illegal. 

FOR MEMBERS: What are the rules for wild camping in Austria?

There are some regional differences though.

In the states of Salzburg, Vorarlberg and Styria there are no laws strictly forbidding camping outside of campsites, but local authorities can prohibit it and take action if necessary.

The strictest rules apply in national parks, nature reserves and special protection areas across Austria, so check before you plan your camping trip that your spot is not located in one of these areas.  

In most cases, if someone is caught camping illegally in Austria it is considered as an administrative offence and a fine can be issued, ranging from €5 to €500, depending on the location.

Camping in the forest

Camping in the forest is prohibited everywhere in Austria by law (specifically Section 33 of the Forest Act). The only exception is when you have the consent of the landowner.

Camping above the tree line

In Upper Austria and Styria you are allowed to camp in the mountains above the tree line, as long as you are outside of pasture areas.

In Vorarlberg this is also permitted, although the mayor of a municipality can prohibit the setting up of tents outside approved campsites if the interests of safety, health, agriculture or the protection of the natural balance as well as the landscape and townscape are “grossly violated”.

In Salzburg, camping above the tree line is in theory permitted, but the Alpine Association recommends groups wishing to camp should contact the nature conservation department of the responsible district administration before setting up. 

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Camping in a tent

Camping in a tent is the most common way of camping in the summer and most people pitch up on a dedicated campsite.

Many campgrounds have water and electricity facilities, as well as showers, cooking areas, recreation spaces and even kids clubs. Others have luxury elements like year-round heated pools, saunas, beach volleyball and restaurants.

Campsites are also often located near a lake or at the base of mountains, which means you can wake up to beautiful scenery every morning .

Some of Austria’s top camping associations include Camping Wien, Camping Steiermark and Top Camping Austria.

Camping in a van

Camping in a motorhome is only allowed at campsites in Austria and if someone is caught sleeping in a van in a prohibited area they can be fined.

The only exception is if a driver has to stop and recuperate before continuing driving.

Top camping tips

Austria is packed with stunning natural landscapes, so camping during the summer months is a popular activity – both for Austrian residents and tourists.

For this reason, it’s recommended to book ahead during the peak summer holiday months of July and August, whether planning to camp in a motorhome or tent.

Camping in motorhomes is also becoming more popular at some winter campsites during the ski season, so it’s always a good idea to book in advance.

Additionally, it’s advised to take bug spray when camping in Austria in the summer as insects like mosquitoes and ticks are common in countryside areas.

In fact, tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) – a viral infection transmitted by the bite of infected ticks – is endemic in Austria and it’s recommended to get vaccinated before going on a hiking or camping trip in the country.

The main affected areas for TBE are Tyrol and Upper Austria.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s ‘tick vaccine’ and should you take it

Useful vocabulary

Campsite – Campingplätze

Tent – Zelt

Campervan – Reisemobil

Electricity – Strom