Berlin votes to seize properties from major landlords

Voters in Berlin have backed a referendum proposing for properties owned by major landlords to be forcibly purchased and taken into public ownership.

The proposal has received 56% support, with 39% against, and would apply for landlords owning more than 3,000 rental units in the German capital.

The Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen campaign comes in response to rising rents in the city, as they have more than doubled in a decade.

Kalle Kunkel, spokesman for the initiative, said: “Ignoring the referendum would be a political scandal. We will not give up until the socialization of housing groups is implemented.”

The referendum has been named after Deutsche Wohnen SE, a German property company that owns over 1,000 units in Berlin.

Vonovia also owns 43,200 units in the city, with Adler Group (19,900), Covivio (16,000), TAG Immobilien (10,400) and Grand City Properties (8,000) being some of the major players.

A move to reduce the influence of these companies would socialise over 240,000 apartments but would cost an eye-watering sum, and is seemingly subject to court battles.

Indeed, Deutsche Wohnen has responded to the proposal by saying it doesn’t expect the expropriation of flats to happen, because such a move would be unconstitutional.

A city-wide rent cap was introduced in 2020 but was thrown out by the federal constitutional court in Spring.

The referendum isn’t binding, so Berlin parliament has to debate the initiative but it’s not compulsory to enact it.

Berlin’s newly elected parliament is led by the centre-left SPD, but could comprise of a coalition with the Greens and the Left Party.

The SPD party has previously spoken out against expropriation, while the Left Party are in support.

The SPD’s Franziska Giffey, who is set to be Mayor, said the referendum result needs to be respected.

She called on the Berlin government to draft a bill and conduct a legal review of it.

However she said: “Such a draft then has to be checked and if it is not constitutional, then we cannot do it.

“I am still of the opinion that expropriations do not help to create even a single new apartment or solve the big question of affordable housing.”

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