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Amid Housing Shortage, Berlin Bans Short-Term Rentals

Jun 26, 2016
Originally published on June 29, 2016 8:10 am
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Visitors to Berlin this summer will find fewer apartments to rent through websites like Airbnb because the city has imposed a ban on short-term rentals. Holiday rentals are contributing to a housing shortage and skyrocketing rents which have gone up nearly 60 percent since 2009, officials tell NPR.

Berlin correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: My producer is buzzed into this apartment building where a one-bedroom unit is among hundreds available on Airbnb for tourists and others to rent in Berlin.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Nice to meet you two. Come in.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you.

NELSON: This man leases the light and airy second-floor unit while his live-in boyfriend advertises it on the website. He says they live here most of the time but sometimes sublet their pad on weekends for around $70.

NELSON: a night. He asks that we not name him or his partner because they could be slapped with a more than $100,000 fine under the city's ban on holiday rentals. He, like Airbnb, accuse the Berlin government of making them scapegoats in the ongoing housing crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I earn decent money myself it's just like a way to, like, you know - just make some extra cash to spend when I am myself abroad or, you know, away on a weekend.

NELSON: The 32 year old says he carefully screens people who apply to stay here to make sure they are quiet and clean and don't upset the neighbors. He says he also advises people who sublet from him on nearby places to eat and shop.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I guess in that way, I indirectly even contribute to, like, the local economy here of my little neighborhood.

NELSON: But Berlin officials disagree saying rentals like these do more harm than good by cutting into a limited supply of properties. They claim most owners and renters who advertise their units short term through services like Airbnb, Wimdu and others don't even live there.

REINER WILD: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Reiner Wild who heads the city's tenants association says there currently is a shortage of a hundred twenty thousand apartments and homes in Berlin, a city in which 85 percent of residents are renters. He says that makes setting aside units for tourists untenable.

Compounding the shortage is the fact tens of thousands of people are moving to Berlin each year, says Stephan von Dassel. He heads the Social Affairs Department in Berlin's central borough called Mitte.

STEPHAN VON DASSEL: Then we have about 50,000 refugees in Berlin that came in 2015, so the problem - it gets bigger every year.

NELSON: He says his office did a survey last summer and found 23,000 short-term rentals being offered online.

VON DASSEL: And this number would be enough to give all refugees and to give all homeless people in Berlin their own flat.

NELSON: So as of last month, the city decided to enforce a Zweckentfremdungsverbot or ban on wrongful use. That means short of doing a home exchange or renting out a room, offering ones apartment or home for short-term rentals to tourists is now illegal.

A lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban was thrown out by a German court earlier this month. The city is asking residents to report violators. But von Dassel says with only six people at the moment to handle enforcement in his district of Mitte, it could take six months or longer to actually find anyone. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.