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Property: How to find a rental flat when you arrive in Austria

Finding an apartment or house in Austria is not easy, especially if you have recently arrived. Here's how to get a head start.

Property: How to find a rental flat when you arrive in Austria

Rentals in Austria are neither cheap nor abundant. It can take months for people to find a suitable place, get accepted by the property owner and pay all the fees related to the process.

From 2023, Austrians will at least get some relief, as the federal government is scrapping the Provision, or the broker’s fee that needs to be paid by tenants. From then on, the two-month rent non-refundable fee will be paid by the solicitor of the service, usually the person renting their property, rather than the prospective tenant. 

Even so, finding a flat as a newcomer can be challenging. Here are the best tips to give you a head start.

Ask around

Austria is very much a network type of country. People ask their friends for recommendations on services, possible job applicants, tenants and all sorts of things. 

READ ALSO: Ten tips for finding an apartment in Austria

Transferring the rental contract from one person to another is comparatively simple in Austria, which makes it relatively common place. 

Even if you have just arrived, it is worth mentioning to your boss, family members, colleagues at work or school and even Facebook groups for expats that you are looking for a place.

Someone might know someone. A coworker might even help you find a place without showing proof of salary just by mentioning you work together.

Generally speaking, offers don’t end up on official sites until they’ve been turned down by a person’s close friends and networks, so use your networking power, even if your network is rather small. 

Use the search platforms

Especially if you want to avoid paying brokerage fees (until 2023, of course), there’s no reason why you should not use the same tools and search engines Austrians do. 

And if you want to try and avoid the fee until 2023, a good way is by adding “Provisionfrei” as a filter or as a search term.

Some of the more popular websites to look for flats are Immowelt, Immobilien Scout 24, Der Standard, and Willhaben. There are many, but at some point, they start getting repetitive. 

READ ALSO: Renting in Austria: How to find a furnished apartment

Be prepared and be persistent

Finding a place is not easy, and you might send dozens of emails and applications until getting an official return. Websites are updated daily and early in the day, so set your alarm and check for new listings. 

The best places will be rented almost on a first-come, first-serve basis, as long as the first to come fulfills the necessary requirements. 

Once you get an appointment for a viewing, be prepared. Write down all your questions, take everything you might want to use (measurers and a printed checklist, for example), show up on time (this is extremely important) and bring someone with you (your partner or a family) so you can get a second opinion if you want. 

It is not rare for negotiations to start right off of the viewing, and those may last fewer than 15 minutes. You could even take some prepared documents and papers with you and hand them to the broker if you like the place. 

What to do if I don’t have proof of income?

One of the first hurdles that a person who is renting out a new apartment, especially for students or expats, is providing the real estate agency with proof of income.

Usually, they require the last three payment slips. But, unfortunately, that is not possible for anyone starting out a new job, coming here as a self-employed worker, or students, for example.

In case you come already with a job lined up, a work contract stating your salary should be enough for most real estate agencies. 

Other possibilities include showing the latest tax return for self-employed workers or having a family member co-sign as a guarantor, which is usually a good choice for students.

Additionally, you can negotiate a higher deposit, six months instead of three, or prepay a few months of rent.

It is not uncommon to negotiate several of these options with the broker or landlord. Sometimes, the higher deposit can be partially returned after a few months or a year.

READ MORE: The best places to live in Austria that are not Vienna

Some cities are more complicated than others

Of course, you need to take into account the regional differences when looking for a place and adjust your expectations accordingly. 

For example, Salzburg is experiencing a housing crisis and finding an affordable place there might seem nearly impossible. 

Others are difficult at some times in the year, for instance in Tyrol during winter sports season. 

Property in Austria: Real estate in high demand in Tyrol

In the capital Vienna, cheap and central apartments are highly disputed and could be difficult, especially for a foreign, to be the chosen tenant. 

If your budget is a bit higher or you are open to finding places outside of downtown, especially in the growing districts 21st and 22nd, there are more options. The city’s public transport system is excellent, and you will be well connected in just about any part of town.

The transport is also good to and from many of Vienna’s “commuter towns”, and that would perhaps be the place to look if you are searching for a house with a garden, for example. 

And watch out for scams

Not unlike any other part of the world, Austria and its residents can be victims of many types of scams, so watch out for them. 

Research the property thoroughly and don’t sign anything or send any money without viewing it. One of the most common scams is the “I’m overseas right now”, so be on the lookout for any landlord claiming to be away and, usually, asking for a deposit of some sort while they send you a key in the mail or variations of that.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Five common apartment scams in Austria

As a rule, no money is exchanged until the contract is signed.

If you’re unsure, or if the deal seems too good to be true, it’s best not to go ahead. Read our summary on avoiding rental scams in Austria for more information. 

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Reader question: How does Vienna’s rent control system work?

Vienna has some of the cheapest rents in European capitals, and a lot of it has to do with the strict rental controls in the Austrian city.

Reader question: How does Vienna's rent control system work?

Austria’s capital often shows up near the top on lists of cities with a high standard of living – and the affordable rents in the imperial city is one of the reasons why.

Vienna has a high share of its residents, some 60 per cent, living in municipal housing estates or homes subsidised by the city, according to the government.

Besides the more than 220,000 city apartments (also known as gemeindewohnung), many residents also live in genossenschaftswohnungen, cooperative housing built by non-profits with large deposits for apartments but reduced rents.

READ ALSO: The downsides of Vienna you should be aware of before moving there

The city’s subsidised apartments are part of a highly active policy from 1920 to 1938, during the period known as “das rote Wien“, with the Socialist Party ruling the city, and after the Second World War, until 1969.

However, there are other reasons for the lower rents in Vienna, especially since some private residences also have extremely affordable prices in the capital. 

One such factor is laws regulating how much landlords can raise rents, known as rent control. 

Rental controls in Austria

Austria has a history of more than 100 years of rental control, first established during World War I as protection of widows and orphans of soldiers against exorbitant rents.

READ ALSO: Property: How to find a rental flat when you arrive in Austria

The first regulations to curb rentals and restrict evictions were set in 1917. Still, they got stricter after the Second World War, when the Friedenskornenzins policy was instituted during times of peace, setting a maximum rent of 1 Shilling per square metre per month.

Incredibly, there are still some people living in apartments from those times, when 1 Schilling was the same as €0.072 – and yearly rental increases were also kept very low. Most of the famous cases of apartments in downtown Vienna costing tenants less than €400 a month can be traced back to “peace times” contracts.

Benchmark rent in Austria

Since 1994, though, a new system for capping rent was introduced in Austria, known as Richtwertmiete, or benchmark rent, as Immowelt explains.

This benchmark is valid only for apartments built before 1945 (in Vienna, a large share of the buildings are from before the war, known as Altbau) or, in some cases, before 1953, and they cannot be larger than 130 square metres. The rules can be quite specific, and you can check whether your apartment falls under rental protection in several administrative bodies and rental associations in your city.

In Vienna, the benchmark rent for old apartments that fall into the value protection agreement from 1994 is € 6.15 per square metre, a low value that was recently increased from € 5.81 on April 1st. This means that a 100-square-metre apartment would cost € 615 per month without additional costs such as VAT and living expenses if governed by the protection agreement.

The capital has the second-lowest benchmark rent in Austria, only higher than Burgenland (€5.61). Vorarlberg has the highest at €9.44 per square metre, followed by Salzburg (€8.50), Styria (€8.49), and Tyrol (€7.50).

Some apartments with rental contracts from before 1994 still follow previous rules, with even lower rents. They are put in different categories depending on appliances, location, size, and other factors and could be capped at as high as €3.80 per square metre in Vienna.

Austria also has a “right to succession” established in its Tenancy Law, stating that tenants who benefit from these low rents have a right to pass on the apartment to close relatives, such as children, grandchildren or partners. In those cases, rent can only be slightly increased – keeping prices low for decades on end.

What if my apartment does not fall into the benchmarked rent?

New buildings (Neubau) do not benefit from the capped rents in Austria. There are not many restrictions on rents for private properties. However, Austrian law has a provision covering “usury” or overcharging. Several rental associations can help you check if you are paying too much.

If an arbitration board finds that the rent was excessively high, tenants could claim retroactively.

READ ALSO: Tenant or landlord: Who pays which costs in Austria?

When it comes to rental costs, it is also essential to realise what each cost relates to and whether or not the property owner or the renter should be paying for it.

Most operating costs can be passed on to the tenant, including insurance, operational costs (such as electricity for lifts), and sewer clearing. However, some are not covered by Austrian law, and property owners need to pay for themselves, including repair work for burst pipes or damaged chimneys and connection to the public water supply network, for example.

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