Berlin’s Renters Are Trying to Nationalize Real Estate

The rent is too darn high in Berlin, so renters are pushing a novel idea: seizing property held by real estate giants to nationalize and turn into affordable housing.

More specifically, they want to take on huge real estate developers that control thousands of units — which were colorfully termed “rent sharks” in a protest highlighting the proposal. This might sound wild to some, but it could potentially be legally defensible in Germany if the majority of voters agree.

According to an Associated Press report, activists say rising rents — in part fueled by a desire for profits — are driving people out of their communities and gentrifying a city with a long history of arts, counterculture and creativity. Some have had success challenging their landlords in court, but that’s more of a stopgap for a larger problem.

They’re suggesting expropriating 250,000 apartments to turn into affordable housing. And if they can get 20,000 signatures, city officials will have to take their proposal seriously. If they’re not satisfied, they can push to put a referendum on the ballot, though that will require a lot more signatures and considerable support at the polls.

To be clear, the city wouldn’t just take the housing outright. It would be required to purchase it, and determining a fair market rate could be a challenge.

Tenant advocates are arguing that a provision in the constitution explicitly allows for the nationalization of “land, natural resources, and means of production” and that it’s necessary in this case to address the rent crisis, according to the AP report. In a way, their suggestion is an extension of an existing regulation that gives the city the right of first refusal when property goes up for sale — providing a mechanism for Berlin to purchase housing that enters the market to convert to public use. It’s just a little more … robust.

The suggestion is certainly sparking debate between tenants carrying giant sharks through the streets and property owners insisting that expropriation will not make more housing available. But that might be a key point.

By dragging the issue to light this way, tenants might be in a better position to push for other beneficial changes, including protections to help people stay in their homes without facing ruinous rental increases. And if they receive enough signatures to bring their case to the city, the conversation around the issue might promote a functional dialogue that helps tenants and city officials work together on real solutions.

While Berlin’s proposal might seem radical, it’s not the only city in the world where tenant advocates are pushing for some creative solutions to crises of housing affordability.

In New York, for example, there was recently discussion of a pied-a-terre tax on second homes over $5 million in value. The funds collected would have gone to transit improvements, supporting the interests of working class New Yorkers. Furthermore, other cities have taxed, fined or seized vacant property to push landlords to rent it. Tenants have also used rent strikes to highlight housing unaffordability, poor living conditions and other issues — taking advantage of collective organizing to make a big impact.

Photo credit: Trine Syvertsen/Creative Commons

33 comments

Shirley S
Shirley S25 days ago

For the people by the people.

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Michael F

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Lisa M
Lisa M27 days ago

Thanks.

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Irene S
Irene S27 days ago

Let´s hope, they start a move in the right direction at least!

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Danuta W
Danuta Watola27 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Anne M
Anne Moran28 days ago

Great idea; it’s getting expensive to live anywhere in the world..

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Sherri S
Sherri S28 days ago

Good let’s hope they are successful I am sick of these greedy corporations get getting richer and richer and pushing the lower and middle class people out of affordable housing.

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Alea C
Alea C28 days ago

That's a novel approach to end soaring rent prices, and one I hope is successful.

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Loredana V
Loredana V28 days ago

I hope they succeed, they are doing the right thing.
Thanks for sharing.

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Wesley S
Wesley Struebing28 days ago

Novel concept. We could do with fewer slumlords in this town, too!

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