Germany: when is it forbidden to keep pets in a rented apartment?

Whether it’s a dog, a rabbit or a king cobra, pets are not welcome in every apartment. Often, however, the landlord has nothing to say about it. However, this does not entitle renters to have any pet.

The cat is the most popular pet in Germany

The number of pets in Germany is constantly growing. In 2020, more than a quarter of households had a cat. 15.7 million of these four-legged friends have been counted, making the cat the most popular pet here. By comparison, there are 10.7 million dogs in German households.

Pets in the home are a common cause of conflict between tenants and owners. As for whether pets may be kept in the apartment and under what conditions, neither party can rely on a law that clearly regulates this matter.

In the meantime, however, there have been many court decisions that offer guidance. In this article you will read whether landlords in Germany can generally prohibit tenants from keeping pets, which clauses are in their leases about this and what role the type of animal plays.

When can a landlord in Germany ban pets?

In general, the following rule applies: if there is nothing in the lease, the landlord cannot prohibit the keeping of pets. It doesn’t matter if it’s a domesticated rat, dog, cat or some more exotic animal.

On the other hand, restrictions in the lease are allowed. Most rental contracts contain a clause according to which you must first request permission from the landlord before having a pet in the rented accommodation (Erlaubnisvorbehalt).

In this case, you should pay attention to the wording of the clause. Sometimes it is sufficient that the tenant informs the owner about this before buying the animal, but it may also be that he has to ask for his permission. In any case, in this case the landlord cannot in principle prohibit the tenant from keeping pets.

This means that the landlord cannot exercise his right to make arbitrary decisions, but must justify why the tenant is not allowed to keep a cat or dog in the apartment. For example, the landlord cannot forbid one tenant from keeping a dog without good reason and allow the other tenant to do so. However, if one tenant wants to keep a fighting dog and the other a poodle, the landlord can agree to one breed and ban the other.

Can a landlord in Germany impose a general ban on keeping pets?

Not. According to the ruling of the highest court, landlords in Germany are not allowed to introduce a general ban on keeping pets. In a ruling dated March 20, 2013, the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH) upheld its tenant-friendly decision on pet ownership.

According to this ruling, general bans on keeping dogs and cats in rented housing are unacceptable. Such clauses in the lease are invalid – the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe ruled, referring to § 307 sec. 1 of the German Civil Code (BGB) (reference number: VIII ZR 168/12). The grounds for the ruling state that they are unfavorable for tenants, because the ban on keeping dogs and cats allows no exceptions and does not take into account special circumstances and interests.

307 BGB argues that the provisions of the general terms and conditions of contracts are invalid if, contrary to the requirements of good faith, they are disproportionately unfavorable to the other party to the contract concluded with the entity applying such terms. Disproportionately unfavorable treatment may also result from the provision being unclear and incomprehensible.

Pets should not disturb the neighbors

However, the ineffectiveness of the general prohibition does not mean that “the tenant may keep dogs or cats without regard for others”, stated the Eighth Civil Chamber of the German Federal Court, citing § 535 para. 1 BGB. The interests of both parties to the lease, the other tenants in the home and the neighbors involved must be taken into account.

Also, keep in mind that even if the landlord initially allows you to keep your pet, he may change his mind later. This is possible, for example, if the animal constantly disturbs its neighbors – for example by noise or an annoying smell. As a rule, however, neighbors must tolerate the momentary barking of dogs or the chirping of birds. Especially if the block of flats is inhabited by many animals (Hamburg-Wandsbek court, reference number 716c C 114/90).

Also pay attention to the traces your pet leaves in the rented apartment. If they are considered normal wear and tear, there will be no problems. Light scratches are usually considered normal wear and tear on the home, but if the damage is more extensive, the landlord can claim damages from you.

Which pets should a landlord in Germany not accept?

The clause in the lease regarding the need to obtain a permit only applies to larger animals. In principle, landlords cannot prohibit the keeping of small pets in the apartment. This applies to all pets that can be kept in cages, aquariums and terrariums.

This means that the tenant may keep fish, rats, hamsters, birds and rabbits in the apartment without the landlord’s permission. Hedgehogs are not considered small animals – this was the decision of the Berlin-Spandau Labor Court (reference number 12 C 133/14).

Renters must be allowed to have exotic and dangerous animals. This applies, for example, to snakes.

How many pets can the tenant keep in the apartment?

Just because you can keep dogs and cats in a rented apartment doesn’t mean you can have as many pets as you want. Tenants must limit themselves to the number of pets that are customary on site.

According to the ruling of the Higher National Court in Munich, two pets are usually involved (OLG München, reference number: 5 U 7178/89). However, this number also depends on the size of the apartment. Usually only one pet is allowed in a one-room apartment.

Can pets temporarily stay in the rented apartment?

It depends on how you understand the term “temporary”. For example, if you are visited by a friend who has a dog, the pet may in principle stay in the apartment for the duration of the visit. If, on the other hand, your friend asks you to take care of his animals during his holiday, you must agree this with the landlord in advance.

If you do not receive permission, the landlord can ask you to remove your pet from the rented apartment. If you do not do this, you must take into account that the rental agreement will be terminated. However, termination of the contract with immediate effect is not permitted.

In conclusion, a general ban on pets in rental contracts is unacceptable. The interests of both parties to the lease, other residents and neighbors must be carefully considered. As a rule, the owner’s consent is not required for small animals, but it is for exotic or dangerous animals. The number of pets allowed depends on the size of the apartment.

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