• Politics
  • John Riceburg: Do Not Kill Your Landlord


John Riceburg: Do Not Kill Your Landlord

John's landlord just upped his rent. What are his options – besides murder, that is?

Image for John Riceburg: Do Not Kill Your Landlord

Graz Gries

“Do not kill your landlord!” It might feel good – but ultimately it won’t solve the problem of rising rents. On Monday, I had to remind myself of this sage advice from Portland singer-songwriter David Rovics, who performed in Neukölln a few months ago. 

Because: The landlord is upping our rent by €50 per month. We got a letter from our Hausverwaltung last week. Why do we have to pay more? Just because. It’s not prohibited. This way, they make more profits.

Did they make any improvements to justify the higher price? I haven’t noticed any. In fact, the next time there are heavy rains, I’m sure the ground-floor apartments will fill with Scheiße again.

I spoke to the experts from the Mietergemeinschaft – which everyone in Berlin should sign up for – and basically: no. They can raise the rent 15 percent every three years – as long as it’s under the örtsübliche Vergleichsmiete, i.e. the average rent in the neighborhood. I used an online tool to check and yep, this increase is the highest amount they are allowed to charge, right to the cent.

(By the way, this is one of many reasons we opposed plans to build luxury apartments on the Tempelhofer Feld. This would raise the average rents in the neighborhood, and thus raise everyone’s rents.)

But why are there constant increases? Inflation in Germany has been under two percent for ages. An economist will say this is supposed to “amortize” the cost of building a house. But this house is more than a century old. It has literally been through two world wars. Surely someone has recuperated their investment, no? Why should they keep making profits from my home? Why should mentally ill neighbours be thrown out on the street?

Shelter is a basic human need – a home should be a basic human right. While the Dead Kennedys used to scream “Let’s Lynch The Landlord”, I think I prefer David Rovic’s slightly more pacifist solution. We can take all housing and transfer it to cooperatives made up of the people living there. “Die Häuser denen, die drin wohnen” [Houses should belong to those who live in them] – as even the Green Party said during the election. Then combine all these cooperatives into one big, democratically run syndicate – everyone gets an apartment to live in, and no one gets a loft as a capital investment that they only visit once a year.

That way, we don’t have to kill the landlord. We just have to expropriate them, and thus stop them from being landlords. Then no one will want to murder them anymore. It’s win-win.

I am going to pay this extortion, as I’ve done in the past. But I’m also going to create a bunch of unnecessary paperwork in the process. And I’m going to sit down with all my neighbours and see what we can do. Just like David Rovics suggested.