Housing is a major financial challenge for many students. The extreme inflation exacerbates this situation even more. There is an urgent need for action, but too little is coming from politicians. We are tackling this issue, making demands on politicians together with you and fighting for our right to affordable and good housing!
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ÖH’S DEMANDS FOR AFFORDABLE AND GOOD HOUSING FOR ALL STUDENTS
Students in particular, who increasingly have to live below the poverty line, are affected by the enormous price increases and have been struggling for months to cope with increasingly expensive rents. The gaping holes in Austria’s housing policy become particularly apparent at the beginning of the semester: due to the start and change of studies and semesters abroad, not only do the moves pile up, but so do the problems.
Horrendous rents, illegal clauses in tenancy agreements, dilapidated apartments, unfounded time limits. Countless students spend months searching in vain for accommodation that is affordable, liveable and accessible. We at the ÖH are clearly aware that these problems are increasing enormously: we have doubled our housing and tenancy advice service in order to provide answers to the growing number of inquiries from students.
However, the enormous inflation and the unchecked price increases on the housing market for over one and a half years did not just fall out of the sky, but are the result of political failure. A year and a half ago, numerous clever minds were already calling for urgent measures. Because it was already clear a year and a half ago that rents would rise inexorably if no action was taken.
In order to provide real relief for students and, more broadly, all people in tenancies, action must be taken now. We base our demands broadly: from student residences to subsidized housing to the free housing market: the basic right to affordable housing must be guaranteed.
OUR DEMANDS ON THE HOUSING MARKET
Establishment of a genuine rent cap
The last few years have shown that the landlord-friendly Tenancy Act, which is only fully applied in a few cases anyway, allows rent increases in enormous leaps. Housing is a basic right and should not be a paradise for investors. Rents must therefore be capped sensibly! The best way to achieve this is through state or municipally built housing that is allocated according to the cost recovery principle – this is the most sustainable way to create housing that is removed from any profit logic.
Existing contracts and apartments outside the non-profit sector should be adapted by adjusting or removing the value protection clause so that rent increases of 20% in just two years are not possible, as has recently been the case. Linking the rent increase to the CPI has proven to be extremely problematic in recent years and cannot be explained in any case by maintenance tasks or similar. In order to absorb the explosion in rents, landlords should not be able to increase rents any further in the coming years, after which they should aim to cap them at a maximum of three percent per year.
Vacancy tax for vacant apartments
The fact is, we don’t know how many vacancies there are in Austria – estimates put the figure at at least 600,000 vacant residential units.
Why is vacancy a problem? Apartments that are withdrawn from the rental market reduce it and thus drive up prices for tenants or ensure that more apartments have to be built in the already limited space available in cities. The most common causes of vacancies are apartments as real estate investments or speculative objects – keyword concrete gold – as well as the supposedly restrictive tenancy law and, in particular, the letting of apartments for short stays, such as via AirBnB.
We demand that apartments should be used for their actual purpose – long-term living – in order to relieve the strained rental market and slow down the residential real estate business. The first step would be to introduce mandatory vacancy reporting, as is the case in Germany, for example – then a nationwide vacancy tax could provide an incentive not to leave urgently needed, existing living space lying unused.
End of fixed-term contracts
Since the introduction of fixed-term tenancy agreements in 1994, this form of contract has gained the upper hand over open-ended contracts – no wonder, as the advantages for landlords are enormous: as the tenancy agreement ends automatically after a minimum of three years, landlords have the fate of their tenants in their own hands. Supposedly troublesome residents who have insisted on their rights and important repairs in the course of their tenancy can easily be shown the door at the end of the contract period – i.e. without good reason. The same also applies, of course, if unlawfully high rents are questioned and their correction is demanded before the arbitration board or the court. The short time limits of three years are also huge price drivers on the housing market, as the rent can be redefined in the event of an extension. Either the new rent is accepted – or the tenants have to find a new home. For tenants, there is only a small consolation in the dwindling segment of “old apartments” in the form of an obligatory discount on the rent in the event of a time limit. Nothing else.
The Tenancy Act offers enough flexibility for landlords even without fixed-term contracts – the eternal myth of quasi-expropriation in the case of open-ended contracts cannot be taken seriously in the slightest. In terms of a progressive housing policy, we see no reason to hold on to fixed-term contracts that expose tenants to ongoing uncertainty and an enormous price spiral.
Reorganize location surcharges
The introduction of guide value rents also opened up the possibility of location surcharges. These are intended to reflect higher land prices and other special features of a residential complex on the open rental market. In fact, especially in urban areas, they give many landlords carte blanche to raise rents – there is hardly a place in the city that would not benefit from good infrastructure. Instead of accepting this as the norm, there are sometimes hefty rent increases for parks, playgrounds, public transport connections, etc. – discounts that would be provided for in theory hardly ever occur in reality. The experts often appointed by the real estate industry to determine the amount of the location surcharge are, of course, acting in the interests of their clients and against the interests of the tenants.
Even the Supreme Court recently stated that the procedures for determining justified surcharges are anything but optimal. We are therefore calling for a reform of the location surcharge system. Housing policy must be rethought and must no longer be a plaything for investments.
OUR DEMANDS ON SUBSIDIZED HOUSING AND SUBSIDIES
Doubling the away-from-home supplement in study grants
It is clear from the original version of the current Student Support Act from 1992 that the supplement for non-resident students should reflect the housing costs of students at their place of residence. The government bill there states:
“This provision sets out in para. 1 and 2 define the two most important cases: Study grant recipients who can live with their parents; study grant recipients who have to establish their own residence at the place of study due to the distance to the place of study.” Government bill of the StF 473, BlgNR XVIII. GP 34, available at: https://www.parlament.gv.at/dokument/XVIII/I/473/imfname_261290.pdf )
This is even clearer from the government’s draft of an early amendment in 1994:
“The only decisive factor is that it is not possible for the student to live with his/her parents (in the case of separation of the parents: with one parent) during his/her studies due to the great distance to the place of study. Residence at the place of study can also be established later or earlier than the start of studies. have taken place. This is intended to take account of the problems that students often experience on the housing market and to ensure that the randomness of the time at which the student takes up residence does not play a role in the amount of the study grant. play more. The only decisive factor is the need to live separately from the parents at the place of study and the additional costs associated with this. “ Government bill, 1591, BlgNR XVIII. GP 34,available at https://www.parlament.gv.at/dokument/XVIII/I/1591/imfname_263139.pdf
The surcharge for non-residents in the 1994 amendment was 3,000 Austrian schillings, equivalent to 218 euros. In 2023, the surcharge for non-residents will be 250 euros. The surcharge was therefore increased by 15 % between 1994 and 2023. However, the price increase according to CPI 86 between 1994 and September 2023 is 93%.
It is also worth mentioning here that the price increase in housing costs is probably higher than the general price increase reflected in the CPI.
Expansion of subsidized housing, especially in university cities
It is clear that the municipalities of all cities are called upon to provide more subsidized and affordable housing. The situation is particularly urgent in cities such as Vienna, Innsbruck, Graz, Salzburg, Linz or Leoben, which have large universities and universities of applied sciences and therefore many students there are dependent on accommodation. Rents are exploding, especially in university cities, and a room in a shared flat for less than 400 euros has become a rarity. For the ÖH, it is clear that it is the responsibility of the federal government, the state and the municipality to promote the expansion of subsidized housing and to ensure that students are entitled to it.
Access for students in subsidized housing
The requirements for housing subsidies vary greatly from state to state. Whether students receive funding depends on the regulations of the respective federal state. In the case of subletting and in shared flats, it is difficult or even impossible to obtain a subsidy, as subsidies are only granted for the main tenant. And only under often restrictive conditions (such as a monthly income of EUR 1,053.64 in Vienna).
The situation is even worse for students in halls of residence, who are even actively excluded from housing benefits. This naturally raises the question of who these subsidies should actually be for, if not for those who can barely afford to live.
Students often do not have access to council apartments either. Here, strict requirements quickly exclude students. In Vienna, for example, where students who first move to the city to study are at least. have to live there for 2 years until they become eligible. On top of that, there are waiting lists that go on forever before you even get a place.
OUR DEMANDS FOR STUDENT RESIDENCES
Re-introduction of the state student residence grant
Student residences are no longer the cost-effective alternative they once were. In fact, costs have risen more than any other form of housing since 2009: by a whopping 48%! And as is so often the case, it is precisely working-class children who are most affected by these price increases – they often have to stay with their parents while they study.
And where do these costs come from? This drastic increase is partly due to the increasing expansion of private, commercial residential homes. In contrast to non-profit home operators, who are only allowed to cover their costs, private providers push prices up sharply – often up to €900 per single room.
In order to return halls of residence to what they were once designed for, the state student residence subsidy that existed until 2011 must be reintroduced. This is the only way that residential homes can once again charge affordable user fees that cover the costs of the homes – such as long overdue repairs and renovations.
Legal anchoring of good housing conditions
Currently, students are completely exposed to the living conditions in their student residences and thus to the residence operators. These include private home operators whose profit maximization is at the expense of students and their quality of living. State funding for student residences was abolished in 2011 and this had direct consequences: Residence operators, especially non-profit ones, who want to offer housing as affordably as possible, have lacked the money to finance necessary conversion and renovation work for years. As a result, the costs for students are becoming ever more expensive and housing standards are deteriorating. The corona crisis and inflation have only exacerbated the problem of a lack of affordable and quality housing for students. We as the ÖH want to change that. On the one hand, we have been calling for the reintroduction of student accommodation funding for years and, on the other, we want to finally enshrine “good housing conditions” in law in order to secure the right of students to sustainable, modern and high-quality housing conditions in the long term.