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Berlin protests urge end to soaring rents

Rebecca Staudenmaier | Darko Janjevic
May 23, 2021

Protesters voiced anger over rising rents in the German capital and a court ruling that overturned a major price control measure. However, police said the number of participants was much smaller than expected.

Protesters rally in Berlin against rent hikes
Germany's Constitutional Court ruled earlier this year that the Berlin rent cap was illegalImage: Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance

Some 2,500 people marched through Berlin against high rent prices in the German capital, police said on Sunday. 

The organizers, however, claimed "at least 10,000" people took part.

The protest took place after Germany's constitutional court overturned Berlin's rent cap, leaving tenants across the city suddenly facing price hikes.

What happened at the protest?

The main rally, under the slogan "Stop the rent madness!" moved from Potsdamer Platz to the neighborhood of Schöneberg, starting one hour later than previously announced.

Protesters were seen carrying banners such as "To reside is a human right" and "No interest on rents."

The march concluded with no reports of violence, according to the AFP news agency.

Separately, some 30 participants organized a demonstration of their own by sailing boats on Berlin's river Spree, and displaying the banners against the rising rents.

Two girls watch the protesters' boats on the river Spree
The small protest flotilla sailed through BerlinImage: Carsten Koall/dpa/picture alliance

What was the rent cap?

The rent cap was a measure implemented by the city-state's government that went into effect in late February 2020.

It froze the prices for nearly all apartments in Berlin for five years, locking them in place at their June 2019 level. New rental contracts were not allowed to exceed that rate — and some rents had to be reduced.

The Berlin state government said the measure was intended to reduce pressure on renters and buy time for more housing to be built.

Berliners struggle with soaring rents

The regulation also allowed for tenants to sue their landlords to reduce rents.

The measure was strongly criticized by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), who lodged a legal complaint against it.

Why was it overturned?

The constitutional court overturned the Berlin measure on April 15, ruling that the state government didn't have a right to impose the cap.

Since Germany's federal government already implemented a law regulating rents nationwide in 2015, the Berlin state government couldn't create its own regulation, the court said.

As a result of the ruling, many tenants in Berlin now face steep rent hikes — and could be asked by their landlords to pay back rent from the past year.

What is the rental market situation?

Rental prices in Berlin have soared in recent years, making it one of the tightest rental markets in the country.

From 2013 to 2019, rent prices in new contracts rose by 27%, according to the German Property Foundation (ZIA).

A lack of affordable housing, tenants being priced out of their neighborhoods and rising rents have led to tensions.

Housing, a human right

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year’s elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

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