Pressure grows in Germany to implement nationwide rent freeze

After the Berlin rent cap was thrown out, tenants' rights groups, politicians and residents say the federal government needs to act now to ensure more affordable housing in Germany.

Pressure grows in Germany to implement nationwide rent freeze
Protesters in Berlin on Thursday. The sign is calling for the federal government to put in nationwide rent cap. Photo: DPA

On Thursday Berlin’s rent freeze (Mietendeckel) was ruled unlawful by the Federal Constitutional Court, which said rent policy falls under federal law – and not the jurisdiction of Germany’s 16 states.

It was a blow to millions of tenants, many of whom immediately face major rent increases and a bill of hundreds or thousands of euros in backdated payments.

Now the German Tenants’ Association (DMB), politicians and demonstrators are calling for the federal government to act quickly to help ensure affordable housing.

According to the association, a rent regulation covering all of Germany could be implemented within a short period of time.

Head of the renters’ association, Lukas Siebenkotten, said there needed to be a “nationwide rent freeze for existing buildings” and “sharp brakes on re-letting” to limit landlords from hiking up prices on new contracts.

READ ALSO: What the decision to get rid of Berlin’s rent cap means for you

It came as thousands of people – with the majority wearing face masks – demonstrated in Berlin on Thursday for a nationwide rent freeze. They slammed the decision of the highest German court and called for more political action against “rent insanity”. Many of the protesters banged on pots and pans to make noise.

The Berlin Tenants’ Association had called for the protest, as well as grassroots groups such as the “Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co.” initiative, which wants a a referendum on expropriating from large property developers in a bid to deal with the housing crisis in Berlin.

READ MORE: How Berliner’s are plotting a radical ‘expropriation referendum’ to fight housing crisis

‘Government can act quickly if they want to’

German Tenant’s Association president Siebenkotten said the government had the power to make the changes.

“As you can see from the coronavirus measures, the federal government can act quickly if the political will is there,” he said, adding that proposals for effective and fair rent caps have been on the table for years.

According to Siebenkotten, the implementation of housing laws would even be possible during this legislative period.

Berlin Social Democrats’ (SPD) chairwoman, Family Minister Franziska Giffey, advocates nationwide regulations against excessive rents.

“The task of protecting tenants really effectively against excessive rents must be tackled at the federal level,” said Giffey on rbb-Inforadio.

It is about “tenant protection rules in federal regulations that are made in such a way that they take effect and really work”.

READ ALSO: ‘Bitter setback’: What’s the reaction to Berlin’s rental cap law being scrapped?

Berlin SPD co-leader Raed Saleh said: “Now the ball is in the hands of the CDU and CSU”, adding: “You now have the task of giving up your blockade against a rent moratorium and ensuring more tenant protection.”

Another possibility is for the government to enable the states to regulate rent by law.

“Where rents are actually exploding, as is the case in Berlin, the possibility must also be created of intervening there with a lid, a brake,” said SPD chairwoman Saskia Esken to the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper, and the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND).

“And we will have to examine the possibilities of how legal certainty can be created there.”

According to real estate experts at Deutsche Bank Research, the debate about the Berlin rent cap already resulted in rising rents slowing down in all German cities.

There are now concerns that rental price growth will pick up again. Due to the rent freeze Berlin bucked the trend of rising housing costs in 2020, with rents falling by around 11 percent.

Crushing defeat

For the SPD/Greens and Linke (Left) coalition in Berlin, which tried to stop the spiral of steadily rising rents, the constitutional court’s decision is a crushing defeat.

In February 2020, the coalition brought in the Mietendeckel law that froze rents for about 1.5 million apartments at the June 2019 level.

In the event of a tenant moving out of a property, the law stipulated that the old rent would remain or that upper limits would apply.

Rents that were more than 20 percent above the upper limits were considered too high – and since November 23rd 2020, affected landlords have been legally obliged to lower rents for several hundred thousand apartments.

READ ALSO: 7 things you should know when looking for a flat in Berlin

The Berlin law was challenged by MPs in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, the Free Democrats as well as some landlords, who said it was “unlawful”.

And on Thursday the Federal Constitutional Court agreed with the challenge, declaring the Berlin law to be null and void.

The rent caps stipulated in the state law no longer apply with immediate effect. The legal situation is now as if the rent freeze had never existed.

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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.