Big Landlords Beware: Activists In Berlin Celebrate The City’s Right To Expropriate

poster with yellow background. 26.9.2021, Ja! and a large X printed in purple
A sign encouraging voters in Berlin to vote Ja!("yes") in the 2021 referendum to purchase apartment buildings from large landlords. On voting day, 59% of voters said, "Ja."

If you haven’t been following the rental housing fight in Berlin, Germany, it’s time to catch up. Berlin is a city/state where renters far outnumber homeowners. A considerable majority of Berlin voters are decidedly not pleased by the quantities of affordable rental housing that have fallen into the hands of large landlords. One consequence is increasingly unaffordable rents.

Berlin renters have been determined to do something about the problem. In 2020, the pushed the City to establish a cap on rents and rental increases1. Alas, this solution was found to be unconstitutional2.

Berlin activists have soldiered on, calling for a referendum on the use of ’eminent domain’ (that descriptive name varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction). The underlying concept is that governments have some superior rights over citizens when it comes to ownership of land and facilities. It is commonly used to develop and build community resources, such as highways and power grids. Eminent domain allows governments to acquire private land, and requires governments to pay fair value in compensation.

in the fall of 2021, a referendum was held to determine if a majority of Berliners supported using eminent domain to wrestle housing away from private landlords. A majority of Berliners voted in favour3.

So ‘the people’ thought it was a good idea to seize housing from large landlords. What did their government think? In April of 2022, a newly elected state government in Berlin established an Expert Commission. Outward signs were of a government opposed to the measure. All manner of apparent foot-dragging seemed to be deliberately delaying a supposed objective of developing a framework for a legally secure socialization law. Hope for change dimmed in the face of governmental tactics of disruption and delay that might kill the initiative.

But to surprise and delight of housing activists, the Commission’s interim report of December 15, 2022 reversed gloomy expectations. It tentatively clears the way for the socialization of rental dwellings owned by large landlords.

A final  report is due in March 2023. In the meantime you can read a detailed discussion of how ground-breaking legislation may indeed be passed to reverse some of the impact of housing financialization in Berlin, in green left: Germany: Berlin housing campaign gets another green light for expropriation


  1. Try: Are Your Country’s Rents Ever-Increasing? Berlin Stops That Dead
  2. Try: Germany’s Supreme Court Overturns Berlin Rent Cap
  3. Try: Landlords Beware! Berlin’s Revenge Of The Renters Gets Green Light