Popular initiative for rent control: berlin as a role model

A Munich initiative wants to limit rents on the housing market. The SPD and the Left Party are on board, but the Greens are not yet.

Almost no one can afford it anymore: living in downtown Munich Photo: dpa

You don’t even need to look at the trendy neighborhoods in Munich like Schwabing or Haidhausen. Those who can no longer afford the rent there will move out, or so the assumption goes. But a look at Munich’s surrounding area reveals the dramatic nature of the situation: A 16-square-meter room in a shared apartment in Planegg, southwest of Munich, is on offer for 840 euros. 1,500 euros cold costs a 75 square meter three-room apartment in Furstenried-West on the outskirts of Munich. It is located in an ugly high-rise building in a rather inhospitable area.

In order to prevent such distortions on the unleashed housing market, the Munich Tenants’ Association is now striking a major blow: The organization is seeking a referendum for a Bavarian rent freeze. In the future it is to be prescribed by law that rent increases in current contracts are "in principle forbidden", it is said in the draft. In the case of new leases, the new amount may not exceed the local comparative rent. "The market is becoming more and more brutal," says Mieterverein vice president Simone Burger. "It is hitting more and more people with normal incomes who can no longer afford to live." Motto of the people’s petition: "Us glangt’s! Rent stop in Bavaria!"

Apparently one came in the Free State after the extremely successful people’s petition for more protection of species ("Save the bees!") on the taste to lever out with this kind of the legislation the parliament majority from CSU and free voters (FW). This means that there are now three different initiatives in Germany to restore affordable prices on the rental market. In Berlin, large real estate companies are to be expropriated with a petition for a referendum, the name of the campaign: "Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co". At the same time, Berlin’s red-red-green state government plans to introduce a "rent cap" for five years that will prevent rent increases.

"The Bavarian model is similar to that of the Berlin Senate," says Bielefeld law professor Franz Mayer in an interview with the taz. Together with his colleague Markus Artz, he is significantly involved in the two draft laws. The two are entering new legal territory. Until now, the view has been that tenancy law is not a state but a federal matter, regulated by the German Civil Code (BGB). Mayer, however, says: "In the federal structure, the states are basically responsible for everything in the first place." The question, he says, is whether a "block" arises from the Basic Law on this issue. He says, "That’s not the case."

Is something getting out of whack right now?

The initiators want, and this is the big difference, to enshrine the rent freeze not in civil law, but in public law at the state level. The latter regulates the relationship between the state and its citizens. But in order for the state to intervene in the rental market, there must be a good reason. Mayer sees this as a given: "You have to ask yourself: Is there a risk of something getting out of kilter if, for example, educators, letter carriers or policewomen can no longer afford to live in the city?" Then, for "overriding reasons of public welfare," rent prices could be regulated. In addition, the Bavarian initiative also invokes the Free State’s constitution, which states: "Every resident of Bavaria is entitled to adequate housing."

Unlike in Berlin, the freeze is not to apply everywhere, but in 162 cities and municipalities – namely where the state government has identified a "tight housing market." The stop is initially planned for a period of six years. Violations can be punished with a fine of up to 500,000 euros. Apartments that are rented for the first time this year are exempt from the rent freeze. This is to prevent anyone from building more new apartments. Social landlords are also spared – they are allowed to increase rents up to 80 percent of the local comparative rent.

In the end, the constitutional court will decide

The biggest difference between Bavaria and Berlin is in the path to the law: In the Free State, 25,000 signatures are first required for a petition for a referendum. In the second step, at least 10 percent of those eligible to vote must register for it at the town halls, which is just under one million people. Then there is a vote. But the most difficult hurdle is the Bavarian Constitutional Court. According to Justice Minister Georg Eisenreich (CSU), the state government would certainly classify the law as unconstitutional and appeal to the highest court. Many a petition for a referendum has failed because of this. Law professor Franz Mayer suspects that the issue will probably end up before the Federal Constitutional Court.

The state SPD, the Munich DGB (German Trade Union Federation), the Bavarian Left Party and the Sozialverband Deutschland (German Social Association) are still working on the bill. The important Greens are holding back so far, they are waiting for further information and want to decide by the end of September. The starting signal for collecting signatures is to be after the Wiesn, which ends on October 6.

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