Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co: How lawyers judge it

AOn Sunday the Berliners have it in their hands: Then they don’t just vote on the next Federal Chancellor and the composition of their House of Representatives. You also decide whether housing groups such as Deutsche Wohnen & Co. should be “expropriated”. At least that is what the referendum suggests, which will be put to the vote on election Sunday. In truth, however, the matter is more complicated, and lawyers are already warning that no matter what the electorate decides on Sunday, it cannot be implemented in accordance with the law anyway.

This is the verdict of the Berlin administrative lawyer Ulrich Battis, professor emeritus from Humboldt University and meanwhile attorney at the law firm GSK Stockmann. He states: If a majority votes for the expropriation of large housing stocks in Berlin in the referendum on Sunday, the project would not be feasible. It violates both constitutional and European law requirements.

“The corporations cannot be regulated”

In fact, contrary to what the title suggests, the plans are not just about expropriations, which are quite common in Germany, for example for the construction of railway lines. Instead, the activists want a socialization of housing groups that own more than 3,000 apartments. In return, compensation should be paid, as stipulated by the Basic Law, but with a value of a maximum of 10 billion euros and therefore not even close to the market value. In this way, 240,000 apartments in the capital will forcibly change hands – that would be the housing stock of a city like Leipzig, emphasized the spokesman for the initiative “Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co.”, Rouzbeh Taheri, in the FAZ podcast for Germany. The initiative is based on Article 15 of the Basic Law, which, however, has never been applied. Taheri’s reason for this step: “The corporations cannot be regulated. They are too big, too powerful and have excellent contacts in politics, ”he criticizes. “We don’t want them here.”

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In times of high rents and persistent housing shortages, the initiative is very popular. At least that is shown by the “Berlin Trend” by rbb-Abendschau and Berliner Morgenpost from the end of August: 47 percent of those entitled to vote in the Berlin referendum find the expropriation of large, private housing companies rather good, 43 percent rather bad. A success of the referendum is therefore quite conceivable, because in the metropolis, which has only experienced rapid growth since the mid-noughties, people have got used to a very cheap housing market over decades. More than 80 percent of Berliners rent; in the rest of the republic, on the other hand, it is around 50 percent.

Implementation questionable for two reasons

But even if the referendum gets a majority: Implementation is questionable for two reasons. On the one hand, there is currently no political majority in favor of casting this resolution in a specific bill. So far, only the left has supported this project, the SPD candidate for mayor, Franziska Giffey, clearly rejects it. Politicians could initially ignore the result of the referendum. Taheri, however, reckons that a positive outcome would create so much pressure that the ruling parties could change their minds – at least if there is enough left-wing majority again after the election to the House of Representatives.

The second reason for doubt: lawyers have been discussing for months to what extent socialization would be legally permissible at all. Battis joins this choir. In his 90-page report, which he prepared on behalf of the association “New Paths for Berlin”, he warns: “There are serious legal doubts about the feasibility of a positive referendum.” The socialization required by the initiative would be a disproportionate encroachment on private matters Property. In addition, it violates the principle of equality, because only housing stocks above a threshold of 3000 apartments should be socialized – a limit that is applied “completely arbitrarily”, says Battis.

The state of Berlin also lacks the legislative competence for an expropriation law, and the planned borrowing by an institution under public law would be an inadmissible circumvention of the debt brake. He also cites arguments against socialization under European law: “Disproportionate socialization” would encroach on the free movement of capital. Udo Marin, chairman of the association “New Paths for Berlin”, a cross-party association of Berliners who advocate new construction and affordable rents, also strongly criticized Udo Marin: “Expropriation leads on a political and economic wrong track.” He calls for the construction of 100,000 apartments with rents up to a maximum of 10 euros per square meter by 2030.

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