Urban Alternatives is launched by a collaboration of different actors which are united in their efforts to create a more democratic, just and sustainable world. This map seeks to highlight initiatives that work towards this goal. Proposal for initiatives not listed yet can be made directly on the website. This process is open to new collaborations.

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Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen

Democratic Remunicipalization

What challenges did this initiative look to address?

The private housing company Deutsche Wohnen owns more than 150.000 flats and retail spaces in Germany of which 71% are situated in Berlin. The company has made a lot of negative headlines over the years: on one hand for running down their owned houses and apartments so that the tenants had to suffer miserable living conditions, e.g. dysfunctional heating, and eventually leave their flats. Another deployed strategy is the renovation of apartments in order to rent them afterwards for a multiple of the initial price.

The Deutsche Wohnen is only one in several large and listed companies that the initiative denounces in their campaign for the referendum which is why the initiative addresses “Deutsche Wohnen & Co.”, and name the following arguments for expropriation as the last resort of choice (https://www.dwenteignen.de/warum/):

  • Living is a basic need and indispensable in every respect for being human. Threatening the home is a threat to human dignity, a threat to any form of human development, participation, the family, a threat to life itself. There are plenty of examples in history. Only a life without ongoing existential fear can be humane.
  • Deutsche Wohnen & Co pursue a strategy of rent increase at any price. Since they have borrowed heavily to buy up their holdings and promise their shareholders high profits, they are "forced" to push rents higher and higher. Appealing to their social conscience will not stop them, as the squeezing out of tenants is a fundamental part of their business strategy.
  • In particular, Deutsche Wohnen is the leading company in the Berlin real estate market and has a market position. The small Miethaie (“renting sharks”) look at the big Miethai and take it as a role model. Thus, a defeat of the large Miethai will be a lesson for the smaller ones. To stop Deutsche Wohnen therefore benefits all tenants in Berlin who are affected by the rent dynamics.
  • The excesses against tenants in their entirety are not tragic isolated cases, but rather an expression of a structural problem of purely profit-oriented housing management. Due to their size, the leading real estate companies occupy a dominant position in the market. On the one hand, due to their size, they are able to influence the development of rents and also rental legislation (see attacks on the rent index) and, on the other hand, due to their economic orientation, are responsible for price increases on the housing market.
  • All measures taken by the state of Berlin to legislatively influence rising rents have neither slowed down nor prevented them from rising. Even the pre-emptive right, which was perceived as profound, could only protect tenants from housing loss on a selective basis and in individual cases. It is also crucial that the Federal Act on Modernization Allocation (§559 BGB), which regulates the modernization of allocation for the entire federal territory, is responsible for the loss of housing in the city of Berlin and leads to the impoverishment of the population
  • At present, there are no signs that indicate a turnaround in rental price development. Rather, a steady escalation in rents is foreseeable. The uptrend is not a short-term phenomenon, but traceable over many years.
  • Deutsche Wohnen causes the houses to rot, does not carry out sufficient maintenance (see continuous, day-long heating failures in winter), then modernizes them expensively and expels the existing tenants.
  • It is necessary to draw a line. For how long do we want to see our city become the prey of some greedy profit hunters? Yes, an example has to be given so that the "investors" who continue to pour into Berlin are deterred.
  • The vast majority of apartments owned by Deutsche Wohnen were formerly publicly owned: GSW and GEHAG. We just want our homes back.
  • Homelessness has risen dramatically compared to previous years and its steady and rapid increase is surely predictable according to current knowledge. The expropriation of the real estate also includes land available for the construction of social housing.
  • Through state intervention speculation would be stopped. One consequence would be falling real estate and land prices. Currently, the high (because speculative) property and real estate price is the main obstacle on the way to the establishment of non-profit housing.
  • The §559 BGB (modernization assessment) is deliberately abused by large corporations in order to increase rental income. The energy savings and thus the environmental benefits of these measures are doubted by many construction professionals.
  • The large corporations have deceived the state of Berlin and thus the Berlin citizens with so-called "share deals" by a three-digit million amount, according to estimates. While this land transfer tax saving is legal (who makes such laws?), it is not legitimate.
  • Under the influence of rising rents, the cultural and leisure facilities are being wiped out. As an example, we refer to the urgent problem of youth clubs and leisure facilities for young people.

What has changed?

Under the public pressure of a growing number of well-organised tenant initiatives, the current local government coalition in Berlin of socialist, left and green party successfully started applying legal measures that have long been neglected, such as the pre-emptive right. Nevertheless, the initiative “Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen” claims more radical and systematic rather than individual solutions in order to stop the rapid and large scale sell-out of the housing stock to large companies.

Due to the dramatically rising rents in Berlin and the inglorious role that companies like Deutsche Wohnen play in that process, according to recent polls, 55% of the Berlin inhabitants are already supporting the idea of expropriation, including people of all income ranges.

These two factors ender the referendum that is supposed to start in spring 2019 more likely to be successful.

How did it happen?

Berlin tenant initiatives like Kotti& Co. can already look back on some years of experience in community organising, agenda setting, campaigning and street protest as well as negotiations with representatives of local politics and the administration. The initiative “Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen” furthermore has a working group that offers consultancy for tenants of Deutsche Wohnen and other companies who are threatened by rent increases and/or by expulsion, as well as workshops for tenants on how to organise tenant assemblies and fight for their legal rights.

These tools and skills enable people to commonly fight for their legal rights and to put their claim on the public agenda. In order to create an actual political impact e.g. through a systematic regulation of the real estate market, an actual change in the legal framework is needed.

The claim of the initiative “Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen” is therefore to (re-)municipalise the housing stock of Deutsche Wohnen and other listed companies with a housing stock bigger than 3.000 apartments. The claim is based on the articles 14 and 15 of the German constitution, which lay down the possibility of expropriation if it takes place for the greater public good. The expropriated companies are to be compensated. The initiative claims that the amount of the compensation for the expropriated houses should be below the current market value of the real estate.

In April 2019, the initiative will start the three-step process for the referendum including:
1. a petition request for which 20,000 valid signatures must be collected within six months; 2. a petition for a referendum: at this stage, approximately 170,000 valid signatures must be collected within four months; 3. a referendum: if the first two stages are successful, there will be a referendum. This is similar to a parliamentary election. The proposal for the referendum is to be voted on. It is considered accepted if more than 50% of the actual voters and more than 25% of the persons entitled to vote agree.

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