Berlin’s Plan To Halt Mounting Rents

In political response to increasing rent prices in Germany’s capital city, Berlin has proposed the implementation of a five-year Mietendeckel, or rent cap. As a result of changing age demographics, as well as increasing migration to the city in general, Berlin’s real estate market has grown significantly over the past decade and consequently contributed immensely to the city’s increasing rent costs. According to the BBC, local Berlin politicians of the Social Democratic Party have introduced a proposal for the implementation of a freeze on all current rent prices for the next five years. The goal of the plan is to stabilize rates until the new housing projects are completed in order to accommodate the city’s increasing demand. Although the policy could significantly improve experiences with the Berlin housing market on the renter side of housing transactions, the proposition has received some critiques, as some believe the plan could lead property-owning corporations and individuals to seek buyers for their property rather than renters, thereby worsening the city’s rental market.

Julian Zado, the Deputy Head of the Social Democrats, as well as one of the proponents of the rent freeze plan has stated, according to the BBC Capital that, “Until six or seven years ago, Berlin had much lower rents. Many young people – like me – came to Berlin because apartments cost half of what they would in Frankfurt or Munich, for example. What’s unique to Berlin is just how quickly that changed.” Through this narrative, Zado presents both a nostalgic dream, as well as a rhetorical basis for supporting the rent cap politically. He further explains the timeline and reasoning behind the plan by stating with regard to Berlin that “More people are coming faster than new apartments are built.” The plan has garnered critiques, as most do, regarding its efficacy. Michael Voigtländer from the German Economic Institute in Cologne has asserted in response to the proposal that, “There is a lack of housing in Berlin. That lack of housing can’t be solved if the rents are capped.” Although controversial, the plan’s implementation must be preceded by a legal confirmation that Berlin can implement its own housing policy, according to the BBC Capital.

Because rising rents and costs of living in Germany may not be considered to be out rightly violent instances, it is important to note that government apathy towards the living conditions, economic safety, and individual wellbeing of its citizens and residents is a form of violence, especially when considered at the intersection of race, gender, and class in the context of political and economic rights. With that being said, the public apprehension to adopt or even support a rent freeze in Berlin seems to be more indicative of fear-driven reliance on free market principles, than of sound flaws in the theory or planning of the proposal. The old saying ‘you don’t know until you try’ may be frustratingly cliché in some contexts, however eerily applicable here as, according to Katrin Schmidberger, “Such an idea has never existed in Germany before.” The only way for the plan’s existing critiques to have any justification is for their predications to be proven or fulfilled. Socialize Germany!

Historically, Germany has relied on the federal government to handle housing policy, until a Berlin lawyer argued that it should be legal for states to implement their own housing policy, which prompted the Social Democrats’ drafting of the rent freeze plan. Since 2015, Germany’s national government has attempted to solve the nation’s growing housing problem. According to the BBC, during that same year, Germany’s Parliament passed a law that restricted landlords from quoting rent prices that were ten percent higher than the neighborhood average. It has been argued, however that this law has not been enough to overcome the inequality in potential benefit of going to housing court between landlords and tenants.

When assessed as one element of a large web of planned reforms for reducing the cost and improving the quality of living in Germany, the rent freeze plan holds political ground when contextually presented as a plan in the works. It is important to consider the accompanying plans for reform in Berlin, such as the proposal to remove big business from the real estate market in Berlin by breaking up companies that own more than three thousand apartments, according to the BBC. When considering these proposals as simultaneous and complementary, it is much plainer to see the way in which these plans mark a discursive shift in how much of the industrial global north decides who is owed what by their governments.