Housing sharing adds to housing squeeze in Berlin | Business | Economic and financial news from a German point of view | DW

Berlin’s Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district is one of the most popular areas of the German capital today, with restaurants and bars lining its busy streets that often lead to the city’s most famous sites to visit. Who is surprised that an ever increasing number of tourists are flocking to the neighborhood.

Hosting is just a click away as online portals like Airbnb offer multiple choices for big and small spenders. According to the US online vacation rental platform, around 600,000 people booked accommodation in Berlin on its website last year.

Read more: Airbnb dominated by professional owners

Sebastian Olényi lives in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. He too used to rent his house to others. “My daughter lives abroad and I travel frequently on business, which is why it was quite comfortable to offer my apartment for rent,” he told DW.

Zweckentfremdungsverbot prohibited subletting

But two years ago, city officials imposed a new law, called Zweckenenfremdungsverbotsgesetzt, effectively prohibiting so-called roommates like Sebastian Olényi from offering their apartments for a few days and a little money.

By law, it is still legal to sublet rooms in your own apartment, but they cannot occupy more than 50% of the floor space. If you want to offer more, you have to seek permission from the authorities – they are however rather reluctant to grant it. And if you are caught in the act of breaking the law, the penalty is quick, the fines can often reach several thousand euros.

Read more: Keeping Berlin affordable

Sebastian Olényi says the law hits the wrong people. “I think the law is extremely unfair because it affects everyone. It makes no distinction between those who rent accommodation just one day a year and those who rent an apartment only to sublet it illegally,” said -he.

He argues that short-term rentals do not lead to a shortage in the housing market, as rentals of a few days cannot be rented for longer terms.

House sharing Berlin

Sebastian Olényi is a member of the “Homesharing Berlin” lobby group, which aims to educate residents about the current legal situation and seeks to defeat the regulations.

Lucrative business

The crackdown on rentals in Berlin, however, specifically targets landlords who offer apartments for more than a few days. Authorities reported that illegal rentals were taking place in various disguises.

One being that several people join in a project where they live together in one of their apartments while renting the other, or others, to tourists at a profit. There have been instances where even the current owner of the apartment was unaware, they say.

Another system is based on a law allowing people to register a second home, which means that a person can officially live in two different German cities. This includes the right to sublet an apartment for several days provided that the tenant at least temporarily lives in both apartments and can prove it. But authorities have discovered that in an increasing number of cases this is not true and the second home is in fact rented out to tourists.

In addition, big investors buy entire rental houses, renovate them, then rent all apartments to tourists, further compressing the housing market.

Mieterprotest Berlin

Rents in Berlin have skyrocketed in recent years, leading people to take to the streets to protest real estate speculation as more and more middle-class Berliners can no longer find affordable housing.

The great lament

The situation in Berlin, where housing was affordable for much of the past two decades, is unknown to large cities in West Germany such as Hamburg and Munich. They have struggled with illegal rentals for much longer.

In Berlin, a task force of 62 specialists scours the Internet looking for suspicious offers or, more often than not, acts on clues from tenants who report unusual comings and goings in their neighboring neighborhood. In cases where they are prohibited from checking tenants, they are even allowed to call the police to gain access to an apartment.

Read more: Berlin 24/7: Real estate war

Currently, the courts of Berlin are dealing with numerous lawsuits concerning illegal rentals. And as always, a legal battle is taking its toll on both sides, so more landlords have taken to suing the city for being treated unfairly by the authorities.

Nevertheless, since the entry into force of the new law, Berlin has been able to recover nearly 6,000 apartments for the general real estate market, which had previously been illegally rented as holiday apartments.

Improvement to come?

In spring 2018, the Zweckentfremdungsverbotsgesetz will be under review. Amendments currently being discussed in the city parliament include allowing occasional roommates to rent their apartments for a period of 60 to 90 days per year. The figure is roughly equivalent to what Berliners take for their vacation or the number of free weekends in a year.

Sebastian Olényi would certainly welcome such a change in law: “We all understand and share the city’s intention. We, too, do not want whole blocks of apartments to be turned into holiday homes. who really live in an apartment and may be away just for vacation, are allowed to sublet their house. “

Read more: Germany builds too few homes and the wrong type

With the new regulations, Berlin would follow the example of Hamburg, where it is already in place and has eased tensions between roommates and the city. However, the tense situation in the Berlin real estate market is unlikely to dissolve anytime soon.

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