Tenants to be Protected from Themselves

The so-called “rent freeze” will enter into effect in a few months’ time. But if you think the Social Democrats will content themselves for now, you got another think coming. Most recently, another tenant protection measure was passed in Berlin, this time a condominium conversion ban in historic district protection areas (in analogy to similar legislation passed in Hamburg, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria).

What are tenants supposed to be protected from? From rent hikes? For one thing, that is what the “rent freeze” is meant to do, and secondly it does not matter in the least from the tenant’s point of view whether the flat he or she inhabits belongs to a big or small investor. On the contrary: The large-scale investors who tend to own the multi-unit dwelling units to be partitioned into condominiums take a far more systematic approach to rent increases than the buy-to-let investors who acquire the condominiums.

So, no: The idea is exclusively to protect the tenants from themselves! Because even after the conversion of a flat into a freehold property no one can make the incumbent tenant buy it. The tenant, while having the right and the option to become an owner-occupier, is under no obligation to do so. But precisely this option is supposed to be denied to tenants living in “historic district protection areas.” The philosophy behind this: Policymakers and – quite possibly leftist or green – civil servants in their offices know best what is good for you and what is not!

Authorities are pretty much at liberty to ban each and every thing that could supposedly put the “social composition of the resident population” in jeopardy: a lift, a balcony, a second bathroom, under floor heating, or even a second sink. And now it is supposed to become unlawful to buy the flat you live in if it happens to be in a protected neighbourhood!

Some property or condominium conversion developers will say: “Well, the ban on partitioning residences won’t be quite as bad, because it only applies to historic district protection areas.” Which would be a rather naive thing to say. Because the ban itself will play into the hands of left-leaning or green borough councillors who wish to declare many more neighbourhoods as district protection areas.

For them, historic district protection is the remedy of choice for preventing condominium conversions and an increase in homeownership.

A pragmatic word of advice to property developers: Buy now and partition immediately! Of course not in historic district protection areas, because it is too late there. Instead, go for areas that have not been zoned for protection yet. Try to get there before the borough councils do, who I am sure will soon do everything they can to place the entire city of Berlin under historic district protection.

A note on the political side of things: It is a sad thing to see that the Christian Democrats are so easily co-opted (and not for the first time). It was the same story with the hefty increase of the real estate transfer tax, or in the case of the rent freeze. What separates them from the Social Democrats is no longer a difference in essence but merely in degree, if anything. The sole distinction is that the Christian Democrats like to stall for a little while before consenting to implement the Social Democrat agenda eventually. Once again, it reminds me of an infamous adage by Erich Honecker that loosely translates into “Socialism will prevail, come high water or come hell.” The Christian Democrats will certainly not stand in its way.