Berlin landlords can legally be expropriated, expert panel rules

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
Berlin landlords can legally be expropriated, expert panel rules
Activists from the Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen campaign demonstrate outside of Berlin's Rotes Rathaus. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

Almost two years after Berlin voted to take the properties of major landlords into state hands, a commission of experts has concluded it's legal to do so.

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On Wednesday afternoon, the committee handed over its more than 150-page report to Berlin Mayor Kai Wegner (CDU), declaring its findings on a topic that had never been seriously considered before: stripping major landlords like Vonovia and Deutsche Wohnen of their properties in the capital and transforming those properties into state-run housing.

Their year-long work involved delving into uncharted legal territory and dissecting a specific article of the Basic Law that had never been ruled on before. But its findings were unambiguous: the expropriation of major landlords in Berlin is compatible with the constitution.

In the eyes of the majority of the 13 members of the commission, such a move would be not only legal but also "proportionate" to the scale of the current Berlin housing crisis. The commission also asserted that the city-state would have the right to compensate landlords like Deutsche Wohnen at less than the properties' market value and that no change in the state constitution would be required.

In one of its most forceful statements, the commission also noted that the idea of expropriation had numerous advantages over alternative strategies for tackling the housing crisis.


"According to the current state of knowledge, no other means are discernible for the commission which, on the one hand, are obviously equal to the proposal in terms of effectiveness, on the other hand, restrict the affected fundamental rights less and, at the same time, do not place a greater burden on third parties and the general public," the report states. 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: Is there a solution in sight for Berlin's housing crisis?

Nevertheless, the findings of the commission - however clear-cut - could still face opposition from the current Berlin Senate, which has changed hands in the year since the expert panel was originally formed. 

Blocks of flats in Berlin

Blocks of flats in the German capital of Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Florian Schuh

Responding to the report in the Rotes Rathaus on Wednesday, Mayor Kai Wegner and Urban Development Senator Christian Gaebler (SPD) both struck a doubtful tone.

"It's no secret that I have always been sceptical about the idea of nationalisation," Wagner told regional news broadcaster RBB. "I still think it's the wrong way to go." 

Gaebler, meanwhile, described the issue as "complex" and argued that taking properties into state hands would not result in a single new flat being built. The report will now be looked at very carefully, he said. 

Deutsche Wohnen Enteignen campaign

Back in September 2021, Berliners voted in a referendum on whether the city should buy out landlords with more than 3,000 properties and bring these flats into state hands.

Around 60 percent of the electorate voted in favour of the move, while 40 percent voted against. 

The campaign had been set up by a group calling itself Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co. - Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen in German - as an idea for tackling Berlin's worsening housing crisis.


Ahead of election day on September 26th, 2021, the group collected 360,000 signatures for its petition - including at least 100,000 from foreigners without German passports - in order to highlight the scale of the problem and force the Senate to hold a referendum.

Speaking to The Local at the time, spokesperson Rouzbeh Taheri said the success of the campaign was a sign that "resistance pays off. That when people get together and do something, they can be successful, even against huge corporations and against the political majority."


According to the latest statistics, Berlin is facing a double-pronged issue of soaring rents and a severe shortage of available housing.

In 2022, asking rents in the city centre shot up to an average of €16 per square meter, while rents rose by an average of ten percent across all districts.

Meanwhile, just 0.8 percent of the city's housing stock is estimated to be empty, according to data published by Statista.

Responding to the expert panel's findings on Wednesday, the Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co. campaign described it as a "historic day" for the city.

A Deutsche Wohnen Enteignen campaigner outside the Rotes Rathaus in Berlin.

A Deutsche Wohnen Enteignen campaigner outside the Rotes Rathaus in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

"The expropriation of real estate corporations is legally secure, financially feasible and the best means to stop the rent madness," said spokesperson Constanze Kehler. "Moreover, low compensation that will cost the state of Berlin nothing is also feasible. Expropriation is simply the best deal for Berlin."

The group also railed against plans by the CDU-led government to introduce a "framework law" that would prevent the expropriation law coming into force for a further two years.


READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Berlin rents and property prices soared in 2022

This is in order to make time for legal challenges - potentially from the CDU themselves, the campaigners argued. 

"We ask you, Mr. Wegner: Do you respect the work of the experts and the final report of the commission, which was appointed by the Senate itself? Then your government must now write a socialisation law that specifically states when and how the real estate companies will be expropriated," Kehler said.


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