In an unprecedented move, German authorities in Hamburg, the nation’s second-largest city, are confiscating private residential properties. The homes are to be renovated and rented to tenants chosen by the city. Similar measures were proposed in Berlin, the German capital, but were rejected due to their unconstitutionality.
What Angela Merkel is Doing in Hamburg
Germany is in the midst of a housing shortage, leading to the shocking decision. The problem is a direct result of Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s commitment to take in two million migrants in the coming years.
Hamburg city officials have seized commercial property in the past to convert them into migrant housing. However that program, began in late 2015, is now expanding to take private residential properties without the owner’s consent.
Currently, the expropriation encompasses six residential units near the city center which have stood unoccupied since 2012. District spokesperson Sorina Weiland has also revealed that renovations are underway and the costs will be billed to the owner without their consent.
City officials are using the Hamburg Housing Protection Act of 1982 to justify their actions. That law was expanded in May 2013 by city officials to give them the power to seize any property which has been left vacant for at least four months.
What Angela Merkel is Doing; Hindsight
Speculation from Germany is that this move is aimed at pressuring other property owners to make their housing available for rental. According to the Hamburg Senate between one and five thousand properties are currently vacant, accounting for less than one percent of all housing in the city.
Hamburg’s housing shortage was a problem even before Merkel‘s decision to open Germany’s borders. A study from 2012 suggests that officials knew even then that by 2017 the city would face a housing deficit of at least 50,000 rental properties.
The city, despite this knowledge, has not approved enough new building permits in recent years to keep up with demand. In 2016 only 2,290 new building permits were issued leading to a paltry 2,433 new rental properties coming onto market.
Those numbers did improve slightly over their 2015 counterparts. In that year 2,041 new permits were issued, with 2,192 new units coming to market.
In 2012 the city did try to introduce a plan to build 6,000 new residential units per year. However, nothing ever materialized due to a lack of interest from construction companies.
They claimed that the government restrictions on rental caps made the venture unprofitable for builders as they would never have recouped their investment.
What Angela Merkel is Doing to Property Owner’s Rights
In October of 2015, the Hamburg Parliament decided to pass a law allowing officials to seize vacant commercial land to construct migrant housing.
City officials said the measure was necessary because, at the time, more than 400 new migrants were arriving in Hamburg each day and all the existing refugee shelters were full. They said that because the owners of vacant real estate refused to make their property available to the city on a voluntary basis, the city should be given the right to take it by force.
That move, understandably, made waves in Hamburg on both sides of the political spectrum. Senator Till Stefen of the Green Party was quoted at the time, “We are doing everything we can to ensure that the refugees are not homeless during the coming winter. For this reason, we need to use vacant commercial properties.”
Andre Trepoll of the Christian Democratic Union disagreed vehemently,
“The proposed confiscation of private land and buildings is a massive attack on the property rights of the citizens of Hamburg. It amounts to an expropriation by the state. This is a law of intimidation that amounts to a political dam-break with far-reaching implications. The ends do not justify any and all means.”
One month later the legislature of Berlin deliberated bringing similar measures to the nation’s capital. The proposal would have authorized police to forcibly enter private homes without a warrant to determine their suitability as housing for refugees and migrants.
The plan, masterminded by Mayor Michael Mueller, was kept secret from the public at first until Sebastian Czaja, leader of the Free Democrats blew the lid. He said,
“The plans of the Berlin Senate to requisition residential and commercial property without the consent of the owner to accommodate refugees is an open breach of the constitution. The attempt by the Senate to undermine the constitutional right to property and the inviolability of the home must be resolutely opposed.”
The proposal fizzled out soon after.
Currently, the citizens of Hamburg have not challenged the constitutionality of the city’s newest expropriation measures. This is despite the indisputable fact that the new law violates property owner’s rights.
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