Berlin, the capital of Germany, has become one Europe’s hottest city destinations of late. This may sound obvious, except when you consider that in the space of eight years, the city saw a increase of 13 million overnight visitors, totaling 30.2 million in 2015.
As a result, many local residents sought to cash in on the tourism bandwagon: they list their properties through the popular renting site, Airbnb, as well as other online platforms. During this period, rents in Berlin rose 56 percent (from 2009-2014). While this may be good news for those renting their property, German authorities have been worried that the process is putting the supply of housing—especially affordable housing—in jeopardy.
West Berlin (Courtesy Sascha Kohlmann / Flickr)
To combat the impending (or as some would argue, ongoing) housing crisis, the Zweckentfremdungsverbot law was introduced in 2014 and lasted for two years. Translating directly to “Misappropriation ban,” the law prohibited the short-term let of dwellings to tourists who didn’t have a city permit. Breach of the law resulted in a fine of up to $115,200.
That two-year period however, as of April 30 2016, has come to an end. Now, a much tougher line has been taken meaning that those who don’t live in the city can only rent out rooms via an online service and not the entire apartment.
Berlin’s head of urban development, Andreas Geisel, described the move as as “a necessary and sensible instrument against the housing shortage in Berlin….I am absolutely determined to return such misappropriated apartments to the people of Berlin and to newcomers.”
Berlin viewed from the Kollhoff-Tower (Courtesy Sascha Kohlmann / Flickr)
City authorities are also calling on the “civic spirit” of residents, requesting that they tip-off officials of any suspected breaches of the law. The policy, so far, has seen Airbnb listings drop dramatically by 40 percent in the last month alone.
Not everyone has welcomed the change though. Speaking anonymously in The Guardian, a 48-year-old woman said that the law was bowing the hotel industry while forcing Berliners to foot the bill of its failed housing policy.
She also remarked that the request from officials to act as informants was a poor decision. “In Germany, of all places, maybe we should reconsider this kind of thing,” she said.
(Courtesy Alexander Cahlenstein / Flickr)
Wimdu, an online renting portal similar to Airbnb meanwhile has filed a lawsuit, claiming that the new law breaches the constitution of Berlin. The owners of 9Flats (also similar) also spoke out. “We face a law in Berlin that would drive us into bankruptcy,” they argued.
Whether or not such regulation spreads across the continent, or even across the Atlantic however, remains to be seen. In New York though, city officials may be under pressure to emulate those in Berlin as a report released two weeks ago highlighted a substantial 78 percent increase of rents under Airbnb in New York City’s predominantly African American neighbourhoods.
According to The Independent, the report outlined how rents (including “private rooms, shared spaces or full units”) increased by 35 percent across the city, but that “black neighbourhoods, there was a 60 per cent increase”. Of these listings, 42 percent (of the above 60 percent) were for whole apartments, thus breaking state state law that bans full-unit rentals for under 30 days.
In response to the law enforced in Berlin, Airbnb spokesman Julian Trautwein said: “Berliners want clear and simple rules for home sharing, so they can continue to share their own home with guests. We will continue to encourage Berlin policy-makers to listen to their citizens and to follow the example of other big cities such as Paris, London, Amsterdam or Hamburg and create new, clear rules for normal people who are sharing their own homes.”