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How to control rising rents in Berlin: No new bathrooms or fireplaces

Protestors wearing carton houses during a demonstration against high rents in Hamburg.
Philipp Guelland/dapd
Protesters don "occupied" houses during a demonstration against soaring rents in Hamburg.
By Claudia Bracholdt
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

While New York introduced plans for micro-apartments yesterday to control soaring rents, Germany’s still on the hunt for solutions. Here’s one: Owners must stop making their apartments more desirable, valuable, or comfortable.

The country’s large cities are still looking for a way to fight a rent explosion that started last year with an unexpected run on apartments in Hamburg, Munich, Berlin and Dresden. One of Berlin’s districts, Pankow, now has restricted its apartments from being modernized in order to fight rising rents, or to translate it from the German clerk-speak: ”Modification of structural units that exceed the contemporary interior standard of average apartments are not compatible for approval.”

To keep the apartments average, tenants and landlords aren’t allowed to install second bathrooms, showers or toilets (with exceptions made for apartments with four or more rooms.) There is also no approval for floor heating, fireplaces and insulation (the latter is only approved if urgently necessary). For what it’s worth, it’s been minus 7 degrees Celsius (19 degrees Fahrenheit) on average in Pankow this week.

Still, the rules weren’t devised out of thin, cold air. Rents in some Berlin districts have risen 40% in the last five years. Some landlords have made use of the high demand by modernizing their buildings, raising rents and forcing out older tenants in the process. In December, a German tenant association estimated that the country lacks some 250,000 apartments and called for more government-sponsored housing.

Reasons behind the high demand: More and more Germans are moving from rural areas to larger cities. In Berlin, there’s a new buzzword for what’s happening: “This is the start of Gentrifizierung [gentrification],” Renate Künast, leader of the Greens, wrote in a guest article for the Tagesspiegel (German),  ”the displacement out of city districts.”

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