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  • Seymour Gris: Return of the AirBnB monster…


Seymour Gris: Return of the AirBnB monster…

You thought Berlin had a plan to get rents under control? Think again! Because of a recent court decision regarding the so-called AirBnB ban, it looks like we're on the way back to the same old shithouse. Gris explains.

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Photo by Alexander Cahlenstein (CC BY 2.0)

Berlin’s favourite (and most hated) cash cow  – holiday flats rentals – is making milk again (and threatens to transform Berlin into an unaffordable metropolis like London, according to the taz).  And this comes just a few months after the law that was intended to put a stop to holiday flat profiteering, the Zweckentfremdungsverbot, went into fulll effect in April.

Let me explain: the Berlin Administrative Court has ruled that an exception could be made to the ban on unregistered holiday flat rentals. People who own “second homes” in Berlin, the judge decided, cannot be legally prevented from AirBnBing their places when they’re not staying there themselves. Three “second home” owners whose primary residences were in Italy, Denmark and Rostock, with flats in the Berlin felt jilted by the new law that went into effect on April 30, so they sued the city… and won.

What was the judge thinking? “Let’s have mercy on these poor folks with second homes in Berlin. Just think of the financial suffering they’d have to go through by NOT renting out their places at hotel prices?” Is the judge sympathetic to their plight? Does he or she have a second residence in Barcelona and felt the sting when that city cracked down on holiday rentals? Or does he or she truly believe that the right to maximise profits from your property trumps the rights of ordinary Berliners to affordable housing?

It’s a big embarassment for mayor Michael Müller (SPD) and his Senat (the city-state government) as the September 18 Berlin elections loom. Forget about the cries coming from the CDU and AfD for law and order: Affordable housing is the single most pressing issue for Berliners – which is why the three left-leaning parties – the SPD, Greens and Linke – are scoring well in the polls.

Michael Müller was the minister in charge of housing when his predecessor Klaus Wowereit initiated the holiday rental clampdown two years ago. For about a decade prior Wowi had welcomed real estate investment of any kind, including the sale of hundreds of thousands of state-owned flats to Wall Street firms. Finally, near the end of his reign, he passed a few measures to tame the overheating rental market. One of the other measures, alongside the Zweckentfremdungsgesetz, the Mietpreisbremse (“rent price brakes”) has already been shown to have little effect on keeping rent increases moderate.

This “defeat” is more symbolic than anything. In reality, there are only about 20-25,000 proper holiday flats in Berlin, a drop in the bucket amidst the total of 1.3 million apartments. But the court’s decision could send a dangerous message to “investors” by encouraging rich non-Berliners – Germans and foreigners alike – to snap up as many “second homes” in inner city areas as possible, essentially re-opening the entire problem of widespread vacation rentals. And who’s going to check if the “second homes” are really being occasionally used by the owners? Meanwhile, thanks to what’s left of the Zweckentfremdungsgesetz your average Berliner trying to make ends meet by once in a while renting out his or her flat to tourists runs the risk of getting snitched on by nosy neighbours and a possible €100,000 fine!

The population of Berlin is expected to grow by 50,000 per year in the coming decade. More than anything, the left of centre majority expected to assume control of the Senat in September needs to get its act together and come up with a proper affordable housing plan that reigns in the cash cow. Or what are we left with? More social tension, more evictions and possibly more people sleeping on the street.