Berlin May Vote on Expropriating Landlords Amid Tenant Ire

Berlin’s local government faces the prospect of being forced to buy out large landlords such as Vonovia SE after activists said they collected enough signatures to get a referendum on the ballot in September.

Campaign organizers said on Friday they had more than 343,000 signatures, exceeding what they said was a threshold of 175,000. The milestone was announced at a rally outside Berlin’s interior ministry.

Known as Deutsche Wohnen und Co. Enteignen, the movement gained momentum in April after Berlin’s rent freeze was overturned by Germany’s highest court, forcing thousands of tenants to repay rent reductions. The city’s booming real-estate market has sparked demonstrations as once-cheap apartment costs soar in the German capital.

Berlin is particularly volatile terrain because most residents rent rather than own their homes. That puts pressure on politicians to come up with a solution. The campaign advocates the expropriation of housing corporations with more than 3,000 apartments in Berlin, according to the statement.

The turmoil contributed to Vonovia’s offer to buy Deutsche Wohnen SE, Berlin’s largest landlord. To ease public concern, the deal, valued at 19 billion euros ($23 billion), includes an offer to sell about 20,000 apartments to Berlin’s government, build some 13,000 new units, and limit rent increases.

The signature drive creates “a historic opportunity to permanently secure good quality, affordable housing for numerous Berliners through the socialization of profit-oriented corporate landlords,” activist Leonie Heine said in a statement by the group.

A spokeswoman for Vonovia said the petition pointed to a shortage of homes in Berlin. A forced sale of property owned by Vonovia, which has around 40,000 dwellings in the city, wouldn’t help solve the shortage, she said.

If certified by Berlin authorities, organizers say the referendum would be held on Sept. 26, the same day as Germany’s federal election and a state election in Berlin.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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