| 27 May 2024, Monday |

Berliners vote to expropriate large landlords in non-binding referendum

Provisional referendum results showed on Monday that a majority of Berliners want city hall to expropriate large landlords like Vonovia and Deutsche Wohnen to help down rents in the German metropolis.

According to the Berlin administration, around 56 percent voted in support of the non-binding initiative, compared to 39 percent against it, in a poll held alongside elections for the city government and the national parliament on Sunday.

The news comes after Vonovia, Germany’s largest residential rental company, said that it had reached the 50% threshold required to acquire smaller rival Deutsche Wohnen, creating a housing behemoth with over 550,000 flats valued over 80 billion euros ($93.7 billion).

Tenant rights and cheap housing, which were a prominent issue in the typically left-leaning German capital’s election campaign, have sparked public outrage in Berlin.

The referendum’s organizers announced victory and requested that the municipal senate prepare legislation to expropriate and socialize major housing groupings. Activists believe that the city will seize ownership of 240,000 apartments.

“Ignoring the referendum would be a political scandal. We will not give up until the socialization of housing groups is implemented,” Kalle Kunkel, spokesman for the initiative, said in a statement.


Responding to the referendum result, Vonovia CEO Rolf Buch said in a statement: “Expropriations do not solve the manifold challenges on the Berlin housing market.”

He called for more cooperation from all players in the Berlin housing market to find more constructive solutions.

Earlier this month, Vonovia and Deutsche Wohnen announced a plan to sell almost 15,000 apartments to Berlin for 2.46 billion euros as part of a bid to win political support for their merger.

The Social Democrats (SPD) retained control of Berlin in Sunday’s election, according to provisional results on Monday, meaning that their candidate Franziska Giffey will become the city’s first female mayor.

Giffey confirmed her earlier stance rejecting expropriations but said the referendum’s results should be respected.

“I am still of the opinion that expropriations do not help to create even a single new apartment or solve the big question of affordable housing,” she told the ARD broadcaster on Monday.

Giffey called on the Berlin government to draft a bill and conduct a legal review of it. “Such a draft then has to be checked and if it is not constitutional, then we cannot do it.”

The Social Democrats also narrowly won Germany’s federal election with 25.7% of the vote, ending 16 years of conservative-led rule under Angela Merkel, but difficult coalition talks lie ahead.

  • Reuters