Documenting recurring black mold, exposed asbestos and perpetually ‘spongy’ carpets, content creator Jordie van den Berg has garnered millions of views exposing Australia’s worst rental properties on TikTok.
- TikToker Jodie van den Berg, known as @purplepingers, has launched a database for renters to review rental agencies and properties.
- Within two weeks of launch, it manually verified over 1,500 reviews.
- Rental advocates hope momentum continues
Known as @purplepingers on social media, the 27-year-old trained lawyer is now taking advantage of his viral momentum to launch a popular movement in the form of a review site: Shit Rentals.
Its goal is to hold real estate agents and landlords accountable. Through the site, tenants can anonymously submit detailed reviews of a property, complete with photos.
Mr. van den Berg then individually checks each submission before uploading it to a public spreadsheet that identifies the rental address and representing agency.
Two weeks after launching the website, Mr van den Berg manually verified more than 1,500 properties and agencies, with a much longer delay.
He told The Drum that the website exists to try to “address the power imbalance” between landlords and tenants.
“When you apply for a rental you give the real estate agent and the landlord so much information about yourself and you have no transparency about how that is going to be used and you also have no information about the place you’re going to be. the life or the experience you’re going to have,” he said.
“Nine times out of ten, the photos used on a rental ad date from the last sale of the property, which could go back 10 or 20 years. This is not enough.”
Referring to comedian Tom Cashman – whose rental application was infamous after asking for a “landlord reference” – Mr van den Berg said that when tenants tried to hold agencies and landlords to account, they were “mocked” and punished for it.
“It’s about trying to give tenants more information for free and help them make a more informed decision about the current rent crisis we’re going through,” Mr van den Berg said.
A confirmation of crisis
August data from PropTrack report shows that the power gap between renters and landlords is only getting worse, with vacancy rates falling to a record low of 1.1 percent.
The vacancy rate is the percentage of all available units in a rental property that are vacant.
Census data indicates that 31 per cent of Australians rent their home. Mr van den Berg says the success of his website confirms a serious power imbalance between tenants and landlords.
“The turnout is absolutely phenomenal,” he said.
“If the question was, ‘Are crappy rentals a widespread problem?’ “The participation so far proves that yes, yes. We have a problem.”
Mr van den Berg said he was “annoyed” at feeling responsible for creating a database of bad rentals.
“The rent crisis has been a failure of successive governments for decades. It is not surprising that (the government) has not proposed a register,” he said.
“It takes a long time. I have to read every entry, but that’s how it is.”
Mr van den Berg said that given the tight rental market, the dynamic between tenants and landlords means tenants are even more vulnerable when reporting poor behavior from agencies and landlords.
“The government is relying on tenants to be their own letting agents,” he said.
“There’s such a power imbalance that if they do that (report problems) they get kicked out – that’s what I’ve seen.”
“The list looked good online”
Tenant Blake Hesketh invited Mr van den Berg to his home in Melbourne’s west after receiving an eviction notice following a dispute over the rent increase.
In a video shared on TikTok, he tours the property, highlighting the poor conditions.
“This shower won’t turn off,” he says in the video, adding, “The bathroom is covered in recurring black mold.”
Using a thermal camera, Mr van den Berg shows the extent of a leak which is damaging a carpet.
“Check out this beautiful native wildlife,” he says, examining the weed spores on the damp carpet.
Mr Hesketh told The Drum he had received a second eviction notice referencing the video, deeming the property unsafe to live in.
He said he had been a tenant at the property for seven years and problems with the accommodation were apparent when he moved in.
“The list looked good online, but when we got there it was the opposite,” Mr Hesketh said.
“We’re just getting used to it.”
Mr Hesketh said he had to lay boards on wet carpet.
“We had to walk the boards just to take a shower and whatnot,” he said.
Mr Hesketh said that during his time living in the house the ownership changed three times.
“The house gradually got to a state where we said, ‘You need to be careful with your investment. We love this house as much as you guys and we’ve been here seven years and we’re part of the community, and you “I’m just letting this thing go to waste,” he said.
“It got to the point where the only thing we could do was contact a TikTok celebrity.
“They say tenants have rights, but these rights are never enforced.”
Keep your momentum
Mr Hesketh said he recently found new accommodation after submitting more than 50 rental applications. He welcomed Shit Rentals as an opportunity to “level the playing field” for renters.
“All the review sites are just doing a favor for owners and agencies,” he said.
“It’s nice to have a tenant-friendly review site.”
Mr Hesketh added that while the website gave tenants more information, it did little to address current vacancy issues.
“Right now, you can really only grab what you can,” he said.
“I just applied for over 50 houses and only got one.
“It’s sad, but until these things are actually enforced, tenants are just getting the card they’re given.”
Mr van den Berg said he “dreams” of the day when someone can use the database to fight agencies and landlords.
“You know what they told you, but you can see the agency and the address and then you can see the whole picture with both sides of the story and you can make an informed decision about whether whether or not they want to live there,” he said.
Leo Patterson Ross, a spokesman for the National Association of Tenants’ Organizations, said he hoped Mr. van den Berg’s momentum would continue.
“Previous attempts at listing sites have struggled to get the volume needed to give people enough information they need to make informed decisions about renting,” he said.
“I hope that with the momentum Jordan brings with his social media profiles and his awareness of the crisis, it will bring momentum that was missing in previous attempts.
“Renting advocates have been talking about this for a long time, and I feel like Australia is starting to pay attention to the 31 per cent of the population who are renters.”
Mr van den Berg hopes the viral momentum will lead to change.
“There is an opportunity to move the conversation forward on tenants’ rights,” he said.
“I’m not taking credit for this. I’m just trying to make sure the tenants’ voices are heard.
“I’m excited about the way the conversation is going, but until we address the root causes of the problem, I’m not sure change will happen.”