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RACISM

Housing charity accused of exploiting Roma

A Berlin charity has been accused of housing Roma families in filthy flats and making a hefty profit from over-charging them for the accommodation – tax free, while speaking about them with a shocking lack of respect.

Housing charity accused of exploiting Roma
A Roma family thrown out of France return to Romania. Photo: DPA

Investigative reporter Hans-Martin Tillack reported in this week’s Stern magazine that the Humanitas Kinderhilfe Berlin-Brandenburg has been making significant profit from renting sub-standard flats to Roma families.

The charity’s manager Lutz Thinius, who has faced bankruptcy several times according to Tillack, told the journalist, “As a public charity we were asked to take on these people in order that they no longer spend the night in neighbouring parks.”

But the flats he is housing the Roma in leave much to be desired, with one of the organisation’s flats in Berlin’s Tiergarten district having “massive water damage stretched across the ceiling, and stinking of mould.”

The official business register shows that another flat in the district was bought in 2009 for €22,500 by property company ISB Immoservice, which belongs to a man named by Stern only as Thomas K., an acquaintance of Thinius.

The magazine said Humanitas rented it for a monthly inclusive rent of €410 from ISB and rented it on to Roma for €600 –at what it called, “an unusually high profit of nearly 50 percent.”

Humanitas argued that it was completely responsible for any potential non-payment of rent.

The magazine said that ISB profited from the deal as its contract with Humanitas included an up to 10 percent additional charge because the flat was being rented to third parties, a practice which the Berlin Renter Association said was not allowed.

Yet the magazine said ISB owner Thomas K. is likely to be more concerned with an investigation by Berlin’s state prosecutor into possible fraud and embezzlement, allegations he denies.

Humanitas said it worked with other charities in the city working with the Roma, but the Hilfsverein Amaro Drom group, which helps ensure Roma children attend school denied any connection. “We do not cooperate in any fashion with Humanitas,” it said.

The Berlin authorities seem to be so happy that Humanitas seems to get Roma off the streets and out of the parks, that little attention is paid to how this is done, the magazine said.

“One can actually be happy that there is Humanitas,” said one official.

Thinius seemed to play on good connections when writing to one Berliner who had complained about over-crowding of flats in his neighbourhood.

“You can assume that associated groups which are on our side, also have contact to influential political levels,” said the Humanitas letter, which also warned that the, “exclusion intended by yourself of the Romanian families (EU citizens),” would be poorly received in public.

Yet Thinius himself said in several emails that his Roma tenants behave, “more like animals.” He also complained that his charity was largely abandoned by the authorities in its work conducting what he called, “Romanian disposal.”

The Local/hc

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PROPERTY

The rules foreigners need to know when buying property in Germany

If you are serious about buying a property in Germany, either to live in or as a form of investment, you'll need to know these important rules on everything from residency to taxes.

The rules foreigners need to know when buying property in Germany

As we all know, property is generally a solid investment – as long as you have enough cash to afford the considerable up-front payments involved. 

Knowing whether now is the right time to buy is not easy. A recent drop in property prices in some German cities after years of dramatic price rises could indicate that there are deals to be had. On the other hand, the decision by central banks to put up interest rates in response to inflation could mean that taking out a mortgage will become less attractive.

But it’s not just the higher costs of borrowing that you should be aware of when buying a property. Additional costs, including taxes and real estate fees, could add a further 10 percent to the total spend on top of the actual price of your new home.

Meanwhile, people hoping to buy a property for themselves should be aware that sitting tenants are well protected. If you buy a property that is already let you will have to wait for months or even years before you are allowed to move in yourself.

Residency rules

The first thing to clear up, which will come as a relief to those who don’t hold German citizenship, is that there are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Germany. That applies regardless of whether you are resident in the country or not.

Arguably, one downside of this light-touch approach is that it has helped fuel the massive surge in property prices that has taken place in recent years.

A report by Die Welt newspaper in 2018 found that almost half of property deals worth €10 million or more were carried out by foreign investors. Studies also suggest that the Italian mafia have bought billions of euros worth of German property in order to hide the source of their ill-gotten gains.

Taxes

Housing under construction in Lower Saxony. Photo: Julian Stratenschulte

The biggest additional cost of purchasing a property in Germany comes in the form of the Grunderwerbssteuer (land transfer tax). This tax applies both for properties that have already been built and for building plots.

The size of this tax is set at the state level, meaning that someone buying in Saxony (tax rate 3.5%), for instance, will face a much lower tax bill than some buying in neighbouring Thuringia (tax rate 6.5%).

Those huge differences in rates mean that the tax on a property sold at €500,000 could end up being €15,000 more just a few kilometres down the road.

READ ALSO:

The states with the lowest Grunderwerbssteuer rates are Bavaria and Saxony, both of which haven’t raised the tax at all this century. Most other states have adjusted the rate over the past decade and purchasers should expect to pay an additional six percent of the purchase price to the taxman.

Debate has been raging in recent years about whether the size of the Grunderwerbssteuer is making it impossible for young people to get onto the property market. Studies show that it takes the average German four years to save to pay this sum alone, which often can’t be financed through a mortgage.

Some states, such as Bavaria, are pushing for a federal law which will free first-time buyers from paying the duty. The federal government has also promised to reform this tax but nothing is set in stone yet.

Estate agent fees

Up until recently, the person or company buying a property had to pay a huge commission of over seven percent of the purchase price to the estate agent. Coming on top of the land tax, that was a prohibitive cost for many people looking to get onto the property ladder.

But a law which was passed through the Bundestag in 2020 ensured that the estate agent fees would have to be split evenly between seller and buyer. Since then the buyer has “only” had to pay around 3.5 percent of the property price to the estate agent.

Experts advise though that one should try and negotiate a lower fee with the estate agent before the final contract is signed.

READ ALSO: How to sublet your apartment in Germany

Notary fees

Another notable cost involved in buying a property in Germany is the notary fee, which is the sum you give to the public office that ensures that the change of ownership becomes a matter of official record.

People who tear their hair out at the patchwork of rules across the German states will be relieved to know that the notary fee is set across the whole country at 1.5 percent of the purchase price.

Sitting tenants

A German couple view an unrented property. Photo: dpa/RTLZWEI, EndemolShine Germany | RTLZWEI

Another key thing to consider when buying a property is whether it has sitting tenants. 

If you are buying the property as a long-term investment there are several advantages to purchasing one which is already rented out, not least the fact that let properties tend to cost significantly less than unlet ones.

When you buy a let property the tenants and their rental contract come with it, which means you won’t have to deal with the hassle of finding a new tenant and agreeing on a new rental price.

On the other hand, German rental law ensures that tenants are protected against sudden hikes in their rental terms, meaning you might take over a property that is leased at under the current market value and find it hard to raise the rents. Rental law also protects tenants from eviction so as to prevent landlords from pushing them out in order to re-lease the property on more lucrative terms.

One of the few legitimate grounds for cancelling a rental contract is if you or an immediate family member plans to move into it, something known as Eigenbedarf (personal use). However, German rental law even gives some protection to sitting tenants in this scenario.

Typically a tenant who has been living in the property for a number of years needs to be given nine months’ notice before you can move in. In some states though, local laws give much more protection. In Berlin property owners are subject to a ten-year freeze on evicting a tenant starting from the point at which the property is purchased.

These complex rules surrounding tenancy rights mean that one it is advisable to consult a specialist lawyer about the particularities of local law before you make any such purchase.

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