Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected].
Dear Hans-Torsten: I heard Airbnb-ing your apartment to tourists is going to be illegal after May 1. What’s the deal? Can I still rent out my WG room while I travel for a month this summer? I’d be grateful for any info. – Sandy
Dear Sandy: The short answer is, yes, you can s till rent out your room. For the long answer, here’s some background. According to the Berlin government some 25,000 flats in Berlin are being rented out to tourists via platforms like Airbnb and Wimdu. These holiday flats account for one in six overnight stays. Many if not most of these flats are un-registered, and I suspect a lot of the income remains undeclared and untaxed. Under pressure to do something about ever-rising rents (and under heavy fire from the hotelier lobby, for obvious reasons), the Senat decided to modify the Zweckentfremdungsgesetz (“wrongful use law”) which till now permitted landlords and renters alike to use residential flats for commercial purposes. This included lawyers’ and doctors’ offices, but also holiday flats. I personally know several people, many of them expats, who have managed to earn a tidy little profit by charging hotel prices ( € 100-200 per night) for various flats they were renting out.
In May 2014, a new citywide Zweckentfremdungsverbot (“wrongful use ban”) came into force. No new holiday flats could be set up, and owners of existing holiday flats had two years to register them with the Bezirksamt; hence this year’s May 1 deadline. Only 6500 flats have been registered, meaning there are either thousands of illegal holiday rentals out there or else those flats have been turned into normal residences. Under the law, anyone renting out an unregistered holiday flat could be fined up to € 100,000. Platforms like Airbnb and Wimdu are required to hand over data to the authorities, and the city administration has hired some 30 new employees to track down illegal usage. On top of that, Berliners are being encouraged to report illegal holiday flats in their neighbourhood at www.berlin.de/zweckentfremdung. The Berlin-based Wimdu is fighting back and challenging the Zweckentfremdungsverbot in court as it clearly deals a massive blow to their business model, at least locally.
With all this confusing talk about a confusing law, your nervousness is understandable! And yet, to be clear, you are allowed to rent out up to half of your flat to tourists – so renting out a room to cover costs while you travel yourself remains totally kosher.
Dear Hans-Torsten: My local park, Falkplatz in Prenzlauer Berg, is completely covered in rubbish. Every bush and stretch of grass is littered with empty food containers, plastic bags and bottles… even the Pfandsammler (bottle collectors) won’t touch it. Whose responsibility is it to keep it clean and how can I make a complaint? – Teresa
Dear Teresa: Not much gets my blood boiling more than the mountains of litter that appear in the parks as soon as the temperature surpasses five degrees in early spring. Officially, it’s the responsibility of the Grünflächenamt (“green spaces” department), but sometimes private companies are contracted for the clean-up. The problem with Falkplatz, which is really just an extension of Mauerpark, is that a weekly or bi-weekly clean-up isn’t enough due to the sheer amount of trash, which seems to grow every year thanks to the ever-increasing use of to-go coffee cups and food containers. Mauerpark now has several massive bins meant for trash, but these don’t seem to have had much effect. Perhaps an aggressive ‘re-education’ programme is needed to change Berliners’ behaviour. To complain to the Grünflächenamt Pankow, which is responsible for parks in Prenzlauer Berg, you could try calling the “chief inspector” of the southern part of the district, a Frau Gralmann, at 030 90295 8554, or email her at [email protected]. Or take your complaints to the Pankow district council by searching for “BVV Pankow Beschwerde” at www. berlin.de. And yes, writing in German would help!