It remains unclear why no one has challenged the constitutionality of the property expropriation, as authorities have begun laying claim to private dwellings against the will of the owner.
A trustee appointed by the second-largest city in Germany, is currently renovating the properties and will rent them to “refugees”, while all renovation will be done at the owner’s cost. The dwellings in Hamm have been vacant since 2012.
The housing shortage has been brought about by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the borders to more than two million migrants in a short space of time.
City officials have been seizing commercial properties and converting them into migrant shelters since late 2015. On October 1, 2015, the Hamburg Parliament approved a new law that allows the city to seize vacant commercial real estate – office buildings as well as land – and use it to house migrants. But now, they have moved to expropriate residential property units owned privately.
When Merkel invited millions from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, the housing problem became acute. More than 400 new migrants arrive in Hamburg each day and all the existing refugee shelters are full.
The housing crisis is however self-inflicted. A study conducted in 2012, forecast that by 2017, Hamburg would have a deficit of at least 50 000 rental properties. The government presented a plan to build 6 000 new residential units per year, but the plan never got off the ground because prospective builders were constricted by government-imposed rental caps which would have made it impossible for them to even recover their construction costs.
Since then, the city has been seizinging private property to resolve its housing shortage. Because the owners of vacant real estate refuse to make their properties available to the city on a voluntary basis, the city is simply confiscating it.
The measure has been welcomed by the left and far-left. “We are doing everything we can to ensure that the refugees are not homeless during the coming winter,” said Senator Till Steffen of the Green Party. “For this reason, we need to use vacant commercial properties.”
“The proposed confiscation of private land and buildings is a massive attack on the property rights of the citizens of Hamburg,” said André Trepoll of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and added that the ends did not justify the means. “It amounts to an expropriation by the state.” He called the measure a “law of intimidation” that amounts to a “political dam-break with far-reaching implications”.
Katja Suding, the leader of the Free Democrats (FDP) in Hamburg, said that the proposed law is an “unacceptable crossing of red lines… Such coercive measures will only fuel resentment against refugees”.
Similar expropriation measures have been proposed in Berlin, the German capital, but abandoned because they were deemed unconstitutional.
In November 2015, Social Democrats (SPD) in Berlin wanted Section 36 of Berlin’s Public Order and Safety Law [Allgemeine Gesetz zum Schutz der öffentlichen Sicherheit und Ordnung, ASOG], amended. It currently allows police to enter private residences only in extreme instances, to “avert acute threats,” such as serious crime. The SPD wanted to expand the scope for warrantless inspections to include “preventing homelessness”.
A Die Zeit article from September 2015, reported that Hamburg changed the law specifically because of the refugees.
Christiana Kant, co-ordinating some of the refugee housing in Hamburg told the BBC that the sheer numbers of the influx are a huge logistical problem. “We’re packing people into supermarkets, into a tennis hall, just to get a roof over their heads,” she said.
Will German authorities limit the maximum amount of living space per person next, and force those with large apartments to share them with strangers?