Germany to rule on legality of Berlin’s rental cap law on Thursday

Berliners will be holding their breath as a ruling on whether a controversial 'Mietendeckel' (rental cap law) will stay in place is expected on Thursday.

Germany to rule on legality of Berlin's rental cap law on Thursday
Berlin's TV tower is reflected in a window in December. Photo: DPA

The sudden announcement was made by judges at Germany’s Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe on Wednesday, who said they expect to publish a written decision by 9:30am on Thursday. 

With its unique statewide rent cap, the first of its kind across Germany, the Berlin Senate brought it in to slow down the increase in rental costs in the capital. 

Since February 23th 2020, rents for 1.5 million apartments have been frozen at the June 2019 level. From 2022, they can rise by no more than 1.3 percent a year under the law.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re setting a clear stop sign’: Berlin passes five-year rental freeze law

If an apartment is rented out, the landlord must adhere to new caps set by the state and the last rent charged. On November 23rd 2020, the second part of the act went into effect: rents that were more than 20 percent above the upper limits became prohibited by law.

The regulation is limited to five years. Newly built apartments (Neubauten) that were ready for occupancy from January 1st 2014 are among those exempted.

Rental prices in many of Berlin’s trendiest neighbourhoods have more than doubled since 2009 – although they were down by 6.5 percent in 2020. 

READ ALSO: Here’s where rent prices are falling (and going up) in Germany

Why did the law go to court?

In May 2020, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and centre-right CDU/CSU parliamentary groups submitted a petition for a review to constitutional judges in Karlsruhe. 

The total of 284 members of parliament believe that the city-state of Berlin has exceeded its powers – and that rental law is a matter for federal legislature. 

The federal judges are now set to rule on the petition, as well as on two submissions by the Berlin Regional Court and a local court in the district of Mitte. 

READ ALSO: Berlin’s district court rules in favour of rental price cap

The Berlin Constitutional Court had suspended its own proceedings in October to await the Karlsruhe decision. 

Germany’s real estate industry has also criticised Berlin’s law and fears negative effects, among other things, on housing construction and on investments such as modernization. 

Germany’s Tenants’ Association (Mietverein), on the other hand, said that the legislation represented an historic opportunity to secure affordable rents for the majority of the population.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.