A campaign booth by the Tenants’ Association demanding rent control. (Photo: via Mietervereinigung)
In the wake of an unabated housing crisis and soaring rents, working class sections in Austria have intensified their campaign demanding long-term rent freeze and reforms in the country’s rental law. In its petition, the Communist Party of Austria (KPO) demanded the Austrian People’s Party (OVP)-Greens-led federal government to freeze rents at the current levels until 2029. The Communist Youth of Austria (KJO) endorsed this demand. Groups including the Austrian Tenants’ Association and the Austrian Trade Union Confederation (ÖGB) have also called for a freeze on rents.
According to reports, persistently high inflation and a rising Consumer Price Index (CPI) led to a continuous increase in rental prices across the country. As of now, the average inflation in Austria this year stands at 9.63%. Rents in the private sector increased six times over the last two years due to rising CPI, equivalent to about 1,400 euros per year (USD 1,535.24). Rents in the cooperative sector also spiked as rental costs are linked partly to inflation and partly to the financing costs incurred by loans. With a 5.5% increase in benchmark rents marked from August’s first week, at least 135,000 households in Austria, including tenants of old buildings, have been affected.
KPO’s federal spokesperson Tobias Schweiger told Peoples Dispatch that “rent is exploding in Austria, especially during the last decade, when average rents doubled. Over the last three years, the rents rose even faster due to inflation. Therefore, the communist party demands a nationwide rent freeze.”
“The ruling class politicians decide to support the landlords. We require a shift in perspective. Half of the population are renters and eight out of 10 landlords in the country belong to the wealthiest 10%. The question of rent freeze is a question of wealth distribution between classes. Besides the rent freeze, we demand a rent cap for all flats in Austria. The rents are too high already, therefore they have to go down,” he added.
The KPO had earlier made several recommendations to tackle the rent crisis in Austria, including the expansion of the existing municipal housing and cooperative housing facilities and an end to their privatization; introduction of binding rent caps which will cover a maximum of the rental facilities available in the market and ensuring that housing costs do not exceed over a quarter of the income; abolition of fixed-term leases and capping of value retention clauses; and expropriation and re-municipalization of large real estate companies.
The cost of living crisis triggered by the ongoing war in Ukraine and profiteering by multinationals has exacerbated the housing crisis in several countries in Europe. Progressive sections and housing rights groups in countries like the UK, Ireland, Germany, Portugal, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, among others, have been organizing various campaigns demanding concrete actions from governments in this regard.