Hundreds of people marched through the streets of Berlin after Germany’s highest court ruled a landmark rent cap that had saved tenants thousands of euros was illegal.
After a ruling in January 2020 that froze rents in the German capital for five years, the Karlsruhe court said that local authorities did not have the power to implement the controversial law, as it conflicts with federal law.
“There is no room for the legislative power of the states, due to the blocking effect of federal law,” the court said.
As a result of the law being overturned, renters in Berlin may now have to pay back the money they had saved over the last year, though this is open to legal challenge.
Berlin’s rent cap (also known as Mietendeckel) – introduced by the city’s coalition government – froze rents across the city for 1.5 million renters in a move hoping to curb the rampant gentrification of the city. It was hailed as a huge milestone for the diversity of Berlin, which had witnessed large investment from property developers and has seen rents rise by a third since 2015.
The rent control capped rent prices on old buildings and required a rent decrease if the current rent was already above the cap from November 2020. If a landlord wanted to increase the cost of rent after renovations,
they would have to seek approval for rent increases above €0.5 (44p) per sq metre (11 sq ft).
Over a thousand people marched in Berlin yesterday in response to the high court ruling. Protesters met at Hermannplatz in Neukoelln and marched towards Kottbusser Tor in Kreuzberg in east Berlin. Some protesters clashed with police towards the end of the march.
Jack, an illustrator based in Berlin since 2016 who asked to only be identified by his first name, will see his rent rise by €300 as a result of the ruling. He signed two contracts when he moved into his new flat three months ago, which would oblige him to repay rent if the high court ruling was successful.
“I know that capitalism rules everything and I'm not surprised in a way that [the ruling] got overturned,” he told VICE World News. “Honestly, I just think it's disgusting that people now have to pay back [the money], and we live in a pandemic. That fills me with anger.”
Some renters who lived in flats with inflated prices that were reduced as a result of the rent cap may have to pay back thousands of euros as a result of the ruling.
Campaign Group #MIETENWAHNSINN, which translates to “Rent Madness”, which led the march yesterday, says this will only strengthen the movement.
“Today's decision by the Federal Constitutional Court on the rent cap is a hard blow for 1.5 million Berlin households,” it said in a press release. “For many tenants, the rent cap didn't only mean a financial relief, but the ability to stay in your home at all.”
“The ruling will not weaken the impact of the Berlin rent movement, it will strengthen it,” it continued. “In the future, we will be even louder and louder for a paradigm shift in housing policy. We will focus more on nationwide networking and the focus on fighting for a nationwide rent freeze.”
VICE World News reached out to Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community for a comment.