On September 26, Germany voted for their new parliament and local representatives. But Berliners also expressed their opinion in a referendum where 56% voted in favor of expropriating large real estate companies.
The referendum asked if Berliners wanted to expropriate real estate companies owning more than 3,000 housing units in Berlin and turn them into affordable rental housing.
More than 1 million Berliners voted for the expropriation in a referendum that recorded a 75% participation rate; 39% voted against it.
The city of Berlin would need to buy the properties.
The initiative, called “Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Cie” (Deutsche Wohnen & Co. enteignen), has the objective to cut renting prices, which have doubled in 10 years in Berlin according to their website.
Deutsche Wohnen is a prominent German real estate company with a market capitalization of about 15 billion euros, the initiative considers it speculates on Berlin’s real estate market.
Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Cie anticipated such a law would affect 243,000 apartments out of the 1.67 million Berlin has.
“More than 1 million Berliners have decided: Nobody is allowed to speculate with our apartments” declared Joanna Kusiak, spokeswoman for Deutsche Wohnen & Co. enteignen.
The initiative collected 359,000 signatures, far more than the 170,000 required to cast a vote, and more than any referendum before, explained Der Spiegel.
The vote is not legally binding. However, the matter should be discussed by the parliament.
Berlin bought 14,750 apartments and 450 shops 10 days before the referendum
According to Bild, the city of Berlin expects the expropriation to cost 36 billion euros, whereas the city has an annual budget of 31 billion euros. The initiative estimated the cost between 7 and 13 billion euros to buy properties at prices “well below the market“.
Earlier this year, the left-leaning coalition currently leading Berlin introduced a rent cap. But the constitutional court considered it violated Germany’s constitution because there a federal law regulating rents already existed.
On September 17, the city of Berlin said it bought for €2.46 billion’s worth of apartments and shops (US $2.9 billion) through state-owned companies from Deutsche Wohnen and Vonovia, another corporate landlord willing to buy its competitor.
State-owned apartments account for about 5% of Berlin’s rental market.