Berlin - A referendum on forcing private landlords with significant portfolios to sell their flats to the city-state of Berlin is one step closer to September's ballot. 

Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen (Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen and Co.), the organisation behind the referendum, said Friday it had collected more than 343,000 signatures in favour of the September referendum - it needed to collect 175,000 valid signatures by Friday.

The organisation wants to force landlords with more than 3,000 apartments to hand the apartments to Berlin in an attempt to quell skyrocketing rents in the capital. Berlin in turn would have to compensate the landlords for the 243,000 apartments - official estimates put the figure at between €28.8b and €36b while the initiative says the landlords would only be owed €10b.

Partying before politicking

"We will now celebrate properly and then rest a bit, after which it will be time to prepare for the election campaign," said initiative spokesperson Rouzbeh Taheri. The enormous number of signatures is "a clear sign of the initiative's great support in the city."

Deutsche Wohnen und Co. needs 175,000 valid signatures to get its referendum on the ballot, or 7 per cent of Berlin's voters. Berlin election officials will now check the signatures. The initiative had four months for its petition and, by the end of May, had 197,000 signatures. Election officials disqualified 29.9 per cent of those signatures, most often because the signatories did not have German citizenship.

"Given the aggressive canvassing for signatures, the result is not surprising," said Maren Kern, head of the Association of Berlin-Brandenburg Housing Companies (BBU). "As we now approach a vote on September 26, we can only keep reminding people: expropriation won't solve the problems on Berlin's housing market."

Queues for apartment viewings would not get shorter, Kern said, because expropriation would not create additional apartments.

"But Berlin needs them in order for the housing market to relax," Kern said. "The recent failure of the rent cap shows where housing policy experiments lead."

More Berlin news in English.