Correspondent in Berlin
Lena will study next semester in Berlin and it takes months looking for a flat to settle in. Day after day, he consults several web pages dedicated to the real estate sector in vain. “Due to the ceiling in rental prices, the owners do not put homes on the market and I have been seeing the same ads for months, all too expensive for me, and nothing new comes out,” he relates his frustrating experience. When the opportunity for a two-bedroom flat on Gubener Strasse in the Friedrichshain district arose this week, she didn’t hesitate: she took a train from Hanover and sneaked into a friend’s student room so she could attend the only appointment enabled for the visit of the property.
“Actually, the visit was dispensable because if they accept that I keep it, yes or yes, I’ll see how to pay for it, I suppose looking for someone to share it with, won’t be difficult …”. These were his thoughts until last Thursday, at six in the afternoon, he came to visit. He was on time, the owner had called at 6.30pm, but he already found a queue going around the block. More than 500 people visited the two-room apartment that same afternoon, which in Berlin means a bedroom and a living room that usually also becomes a bedroom in shared flats.
“I imagined there would be a lot of competition to get this apartment, it is 850 euros a month for 63 square meters and something like that is not found every day, but I did not imagine such a crowd at the door”, laments Lena, who had to wait in the rain your turn to come in and take a look. Two other young women with whom he struck up a conversation in the queue, 18-year-old Julia and 19-year-old Silvia, were less surprised. “It has happened to us more times, we have come knowing that we will not be able to live there because the competition is very high, but it is the first floor that we can visit in months and we could not miss the occasion,” says Julia, who wants to become independent and has the means, but still waiting for the opportunity to find a free home. «A friend of my mother, who has had her third child and has bought a house in Brandenburg, will vacate her apartment next year and I think that will be the first real opportunity we have, because I have asked her to rent it before I reserve it », adds Silvia, who shares the plan with her friend.
When the three young women finally managed to access the apartment, the police appeared. A neighbor had called denouncing a large concentration of people who did not keep the regulatory safety distance due to the coronavirus and two agents came to deal with the threat. “They entered the apartment, crowded with people walking around the rooms, asking that they please keep their distance, but it was all very absurd because there were so many people that even they couldn’t keep that distance,” the girls say.
The police officers threatened to vacate the apartment, but the would-be tenants revealed themselves. “Some implored not to be denied entry, they had been waiting in line for hours, others were angry because the police were treating them as criminals when they were only doing something as necessary as looking for a house …”, the story continues. Finally, those in uniform took pity and allowed the visits to continue with the commitment that the safety distance be kept and only ten people enter the house at the same time, which further slowed down the advance of the queue.
In Berlin, home search engines allow you to apply via the internet and, after a first selection of applications, the views of the house are set. For this apartment, in particular, two visit dates had been set, Thursday afternoons and Friday. Once the visits have been made and the applicants who have been removed from the list have been removed, the owner makes the final selection and chooses which of the applicants to stay with. This type of queue and indefinite waits, in a market that until just a few years was fluid, although subjected to an exponential price increase, have become common since the rent price cap came into force, which has led to many homeowners to take their homes off the market and has led to a black market.
Four economists from the IFO Institute in Munich – Mathias Dolls, Clemens Fuest, Florian Neumeier and Daniel Stoehlker – state that ‘rent controls have divided housing in Berlin into two distinct markets, the largest, regulated of all apartments built before 2014, and the smallest, unregulated of relatively new buildings ”, to which is added a third and growing market for apartments that are driven solely by word of mouth, that are not advertised and that are often not subject to contract , but agreed between people who know each other or with personal references.
«Rents on the regulated market in Berlin plummeted in relative terms. But since the excess rental demand had to go somewhere, rents on the unregulated market simultaneously began to increase faster than in the rest of German capitals ”, highlights the latest report from the Ifo Institute. “Newly built apartments have therefore become even more unaffordable for most people,” he adds.
There is also a acceleration of the release of apartments, since these operations are much more profitable for the owners and interest people who seek to live in the city with stability, but market prices remain high and leave out a whole sector of the population that cannot opt to a purchase.
The supply of rental housing on the regulated market in Berlin “has frozen”, reports the website immowelt.de. “Unsurprisingly, tenants lucky enough to already live in a rent controlled apartment stay. And every time someone moves, when they move to another city, for example, the owner tends to sell the unit instead of renting it again, “they comment in the report. There’s a 60% less offer and increasingly expensive out-of-control flats, according to data from this portal. “Rent price caps, in practice, represent a windfall for a group of tenants: those, whether rich or poor, who are already living in regulated apartments. At the same time, they harm other groups, especially young people and those who come from other cities, by excluding them from the market.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism