Report on Hearing #8 – Initiative Forum

Many houses that were built in the post-war years and whose construction was subsidized by the state still offer affordable housing today. In inner-city locations, they arouse the interest of the real estate industry: After demolition, the plots can be built on with condominiums or high-priced rental apartments such as micro-apartments. What needs to happen so that the tenants are protected and the houses are preserved was the topic of the eighth hearing of the IniForum.

The representatives of the participating initiatives were Daniel Dieckmann from IG Habersaathstraße and Wolfgang Home Maintenance Mahnke as well as Klaus Helmerichs from MieterWerkStadt Charlottenburg, flanked by Sebastian Bartels, Managing Director of the Berlin Tenants’ Association. Participants representing the Senate and the House of Representatives were: Ülker Radziwill (SPD), State Secretary for Tenant Protection and Neighbourhood Development, Katrin Schmidberger, Spokesperson for Housing, Rents and Budget Policy, Julian Schwarze, Spokesperson for Urban Development, Tourism and Club Culture (both Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) and Katalin Gennburg, Spokesperson for Urban Development and Building, Environment and Tourism (Die Linke). The hearing was moderated by Anastasia Blinzov.

Sebastian Bartels introduced the topic, which he described as a “social, housing policy dilemma” and which should also be considered from an ecological point of view. The demolition causes more CO2 than the renovation, have determined the German environmental aid. “You would have to change the building code.” He first mentioned the figures: of a total of 1,000,933 Berlin apartments, 678,000 were built between 1949 and 1978, which is almost as many as the old buildings built until 1948. More than a third of the stock is post-war buildings, half of which came from the 50s and 60s, the rest from the 70s.

The apartments in the houses are small, with practical floor plans, the courtyards are often greened. In principle, the buildings have potential for energy-efficient modernisations and attic conversions. In addition, there is a social potential: Many older, financially poorly positioned residents live in the apartments, but the apartments are usually quite inexpensive. Bartels gave a typical example from the midfield of the rent index: “Built between 1950 and 1964, good residential area, 40 to 60 square meters, 6.59 euros per square meter.” The average value in the old buildings until 1918 was 8.13 euros per square meter.

Since 2010, post-war buildings have increasingly been sold to medium-sized owners or investment companies, who then move their tenants to move out in various ways. In the background, the application for demolition permit is already being prepared. Statistically, demolitions in Berlin are difficult to understand. According to calculations by the Berlin Tenants’ Association, however, between 1995 and 2011, around 2,500 apartments were allegedly destroyed annually by demolition, between 2015 and 2021 about 3,000 apartments per year.

According to Bartels, the Berlin tenants’ association sees an urgent need for action to tighten the misappropriation prohibition law. It is not enough to look here and there at a regulation or the implementing regulation: “The most important thing must be regulated in the law itself.” Every year on the first of May, the tenants receive notice of termination

Daniel Dieckmann, spokesman for the Habersaathstraße interest group, has also been living in a house with affordable rents for almost 20 years. The so-called Parrot Plate with 120 apartments was a nursing home near the Charité, which was built in 1984 and sold in 2006 by the state of Berlin for 2.02 million euros. Immediately afterwards, reports Dieckmann, the building was energetically renovated and a photovoltaic system installed on the roof: “The tenants finance the costs of 720,000 euros with a modernization levy of eleven percent.” A good ten years later, in 2017, the complex apparently went to an investor, Arcadia Estate GmbH, for 20 million euros. The company immediately began leasing, according to Dieckmann. There have been offers to the tenants, among them many nurses, to move out against a severance payment. The last twelve parties were offered 30,000 euros for their departure. Today, three house communities live in the Parrot Plate: the old tenants, Ukrainian construction workers and their families and formerly homeless people who moved into empty apartments after an occupation action.

Arcadia Estate GmbH wants to demolish and rebuild. For this purpose, it uses the so-called termination of exploitation. With such terminations, owners declare that the return within the next ten years is not sufficient to maintain their house. Dieckmann brought such a notice of exploitation to the hearing: it corresponds to a book of 160 pages. Every year on the first of May, the remaining tenants received notice of termination.

Dieckmann and his comrades-in-arms have been waging the fight against their displacement and demolition for 15 years. He appealed to state politics: “It cannot be that someone first lets the house rot and then gets the demolition permit.” In these cases, a trustee must be appointed to bring the apartments back onto the rental market. The IG Habersaathstraße also proposes to have counter- and market value appraisals prepared by the districts or the state of Berlin in order to demonstrate the absurdity of these projects. According to the Building Code, the conversion of rental apartments into condominiums could be stopped and demolition prevented, which only allows condominiums as a last financially worthwhile option. As a rule, the demolition of residential buildings does not create a single apartment and affordable apartments anyway. The IG Habersaathstraße demands a remunicipalisation of its houses.Condominiums for 29,933.90 euros per square metre

Wolfgang Mahnke from MieterWerkStadt Charlottenburg recalled in his speech that the association “Architects for future” had already submitted a proposal for conversion regulations to the Ministry of Construction. This should be incorporated into the model building code and make every demolition subject to climate neutrality: “This means that a life cycle and a life cycle expenditure balance would have to be submitted to prove that demolition and new construction would be less harmful to the climate than the conversion of the existing building. With such an ordinance, some of the demolitions would no longer be approvable.” In the coalition agreement, however, there are neither explicit nor general statements on the approval of demolition.

Meanwhile, the real estate industry is benefiting from its business model of demolishing functional post-war buildings in order to replace them with lucrative new construction, Mahnke said, citing Fasanenstraße 64 in Charlottenburg as an example. The inhabited building, built at the end of the 60s with public funds, had to make way for a new building. The newly created condominiums are offered for a square meter price of € 29,933.90. MieterWerkStadt has investigated the proceedings in several other cases. The property owners always justified their application for demolition permit with the fact that the necessary investments in the building could not be recouped within ten years via the rents – this time limit is provided for by the implementing provisions of the Misappropriation Prohibition Act. For this purpose, they submitted an expert opinion of a well-known expert, who always came to the desired result. The offices involved subject those reports to closer examination only if they appear implausible to them. An on-site visit is never scheduled to even examine the facts or to identify cases of omitted maintenance. Of course, this is due to a lack of jobs. But even a reformed building legislation, which requires, for example, a life cycle expenditure balance, would require better staffing of the districts. Condominiums at Fasanenstraße 64Photo: Wolfgang Mahnke