Berlin voters back campaign to divest landlords of up to 240,000 apartments

Initiative orders city-state government to buy-out landlords with more than 3,000 units

Campaigners say the initiative is necessary to slow a housing crisis in Berlin that has seen rents in some areas jump as much as 146 per cent in 10 years.  Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

Campaigners say the initiative is necessary to slow a housing crisis in Berlin that has seen rents in some areas jump as much as 146 per cent in 10 years. Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

 

Berlin voters have given their backing to a campaign demanding the city-state government divest corporate landlords of up to 240,000 apartments in the city.

On Sunday a majority of 56.4 per cent of Berlin voters, more than one million voters, backed the initiative “Disappropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co”. Named after one of the city’s largest landlords, the non-binding initiative orders the new city-state government to buy-out all landlords holding more than 3,000 housing units.

Campaigners say the initiative is necessary to slow a housing crisis in the capital that has seen rents in some areas jump as much as 146 per cent in 10 years.

“This is an unambiguous result and a clear vote of the population for disappropriation, we want to drive speculators and property sharks out of the city,” said Rouzbeh Taheri, spokesman for the initiative. “I expect the incoming coalition, regardless of its make-up, to include a clear timeframe for including the socialisation law and to begin preparations without delay.”

Some 39 per cent of Berliners rejected the buy-back proposal, with cost forecasts ranging from €7.3 billion to €36 billion.

Sunday’s vote would affect about 15 per cent of Berlin’s housing stock. All of Berlin’s main political parties, with the exception of the hard-left Linke, oppose the proposal.

Divided views

On Monday the city’s Social Democratic Party leader Franziska Giffey, the new governing mayor elect, indicated she “respected the decision” but insisted it would not result in any new apartments.

“Preparation work for a draft Bill law will have to begin, but any draft must be examined for its constitutionality,” she said.

Legal experts are divided over whether such an intervention in property rights is lawful, with each side citing competing clauses in Germany’s post-war constitution.

Sunday’s election in Berlin descended into chaos when the wrong ballot papers were delivered to at least nine polling stations in the city and were distributed to voters for up to two hours before anyone noticed.

By mid-afternoon polling stations around the city ran out of ballot papers while couriers dispatched with fresh papers were stuck in the Berlin marathon.

The Berlin election was always going to be a figurative marathon with four separate votes: for federal, state and local parliaments, as well as the housing referendum. Now legal experts are examining whether the irregularities on Sunday in Berlin were grave enough to warrant a re-run of the election.