• Berlin
  • Ask Hans-Torsten: Cheap housing and cannabis use


Ask Hans-Torsten: Cheap housing and cannabis use

Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected] with all your queries.

Image for Ask Hans-Torsten: Cheap housing and cannabis use

Dear Hans-Torsten:

I came to Berlin hearing stories of great cheap housing – unfortunately, I’m having trouble finding a flat I can afford. Most of the good deals I’ve come across require that you possess something called a Wohnberechtigungsschein (WBS). What is that, and how do I get one?


Dear Jenny:

A certain number of flats in Berlin are so-called Sozialwohnungen (social housing). They were built with government subsidies and are reserved for low-income Berliners. The Wohnberechtigungsschein certifies your low-income status. To get one, you’ll need to fill out at least two forms (don’t ask me why one couldn’t suffice), all available at the “Formular Center” of the Senate Department for Environment and Urban Development on berlin.de. The main form is BauWohn 502, in which you’ll have to provide your name, family status and number of kids. In a separate form, BauWohn 504, the Einkommenserklärung (declaration of income), you’ll have to answer a few dozen questions about your income. If you’re an employee, you’ll have to also print out form BauWohn 504a and get it filled out by your employer. Self-employed people must provide their most recent Einkommensteuerbescheid (income tax assessment). So how poor do you have to be to qualify for a WBS? For a one-person household, the income upper limit would be €16,800 per year. For two people, it’s €25,200. But wait! All kinds of deductions are made in calculating your “relevant income” – for example payroll taxes, insurance and pension deductions (usually about 30 percent). There are further deductions for those with children, disabilities or one of several other factors. So you don’t have to be dirt poor: if you work full time and earn minimum wage (€8.50/hour or about €1500/month), you can still qualify for flats well below going market rates. Sounds great, right? But as you’ve no doubt already realised, very few WBS flats are available. Most of the ones that do go onto the market are in outlying areas like Spandau, Britz or Hohenschönhausen. Why? Because Berlin hasn’t built any new social housing for over 10 years, thanks to ex-mayor Klaus “poor-but-sexy” Wowereit’s spending freeze – and tenants of the existing flats are reluctant to give them up. And it might not get better so soon, with the population of Berlin growing again – by 40,000 last year alone, and with an estimated 70,000 refugees expected to arrive this year. The Senat is responding to the housing shortage with a programme to build tens of thousands of “social” flats over the next few years. We’ll see… but in the meantime, Jenny, I wish you luck in finding a roof over your head in the nearer future.

Dear Hans-Torsten:

I just moved here from Canada and would like some clear information about cannabis use. Is it legal in Berlin or isn’t it? 


Dear Todd: The short answer is no. But for “personal use”, minimal amounts of about up to 10g of hash or grass are “tolerated” by the Berlin police. And although it’s not legal per se, most people don’t think twice about sparking up outside – though don’t be surprised if you get thrown out of a bar or club for smoking weed. The worst thing that can happen to you is that the cops (Bullen – key German vocab) will confiscate it (and do god knows what with it). Of course, this policy is hypocritical because dealing is prosecuted, and the dealers wouldn’t have a market if it weren’t for people like you. Interestingly, growing your own cannabis on the balcony is tolerated – as long as it is for your personal use. Also worth mentioning: if you ride your bike or drive while high (or even have the tiniest speck of THC in your blood if the police decide to do a on-the-spot test), you can quickly lose your driving licence. Lastly, a new political campaign to decriminalise drugs was officially introduced at the Bundestag last month by Die Linke, supported by expert judges and police. If not legalisation, then at least true decriminalisation is around the corner!

Originally published in issue #142, October 2015.