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Non-practising lawyer Jordan van den Berg, opened a door to listen to the concerns of renters across the country. Now spread across several platforms and a controversial website, his mission has become more important than ever in the midst of an unprecedented rental crisis.

In November 2022, Community Legal Centres in NSW reported tenancy advice requests had quadrupled in the preceding months. Since then, van den Berg’s posts on TikTok (under the moniker ‘purplepingers’) have gone viral. 

“It wasn’t like I was expecting to blow up like it did”, he tells LSJ. “But it obviously struck a chord with people all over Australia”. 

Before he knew it, his social media empire grew. More than 143,000 followers on TikTok and 41,000 people on Instagram watch his videos where he exposes bad practices of landlords across the country, properties in a bad state of disrepair, and advertisements that do not comply with state law.  

In addition, van den Berg also created a subreddit, a Discord server, and the Facebook group “Don’t Rent Me” for the rental community to share their stories and help each other independently.  

“Seeing objective breaches of legislation go unchallenged was very odd to me. I wanted to point that out,” he explains when asked why he started this endeavour.   

“A lot of my [law school] classmates didn’t come from the same privilege that I did and had some pretty horrible stories from when they were renting. I felt it was time to share the broader view on what was happening to the people who needed to listen.” 

The next step was a website: went live in late 2023 as a place for tenants to review their rentals and real estate agents, and search for addresses and real estate they might be interested in.  

This is not the first time someone has created a database for users to rate properties and landlords. However, all previous efforts closed shop after threats of legal action from landlords and real estate agents.  

The difference is that those platforms, van den Berg says, were backed by private interests with profit goals. “I don’t have a profit motive”, he confesses, which brings a new level of trustworthiness to the database.  

It also helps that van den Berg has a background in law. Though he’s not currently practising, he was admitted in both NSW and the ACT. He understands the limits and where to draw the line.  

“I know what defamation is and what you can and can’t say,” he says.  

When confronted by landlords and real estate agents, van den Berg is direct. “The main approach [I take] is – please send me a concerns notice.” 

Inner West Mayor, Darcy Byrne Inner West Mayor, Darcy Byrne

With rental costs spiralling out of control, it’s frustrating that the NSW Government is not doing enough to counteract this through legislation and improved regulatory protections

The situation is becoming alarming for renters in the state, with rents expected to go up even more in 2024.  

A NSW Productivity Commission report indicates renters in Sydney are now spending more than a third, sometimes half, of their after-tax income to rent in the metropolitan area. The report noticed an exodus of Sydneysiders aged 30-40 from 2016-2021, estimating that the poor housing affordability in the state’s capital can cost $10 billion a year from loss of talent, reduced innovation and lower productivity. 

This not only affects the urban centre, with rent affordability in rural NSW reaching the lowest point of the decade. 

The NSW State Government promised action to support renters, but there are calls for those reforms to be enacted faster.  

Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne points out the urgency to act, noting that six months after passing legislation for the portable bond scheme, the program still needs to be set up, and no bill came from the review of rental laws completed in 2023. 

“With rental costs spiralling out of control, it’s frustrating that the NSW Government is not doing enough to counteract this through legislation and improved regulatory protections,” Byrne stated in a media release.  

“It’s a good thing that the Rental Commissioner has been appointed. However, with no real resourcing provided to the Commissioner, tenants across NSW are still being left without the advocacy and advice that they need to understand their rights. 

“Everyone knows that this housing affordability crisis is real, but it won’t be addressed systematically if the government moves at a snail’s pace in delivering new renters’ rights.” 

Van den Berg notes some of the most common complaints on the website or social media platforms include landlords not acting on repairs when requested, to stories of unfair evictions, often retaliatory, cases of racism, or landlords abusing renters both physically and verbally.  

He notices how the conversation in the media changes. With more than 31 per cent of Australians renting, women under 55 are now the quickest-increasing group facing homelessness.  

“Historically, mainstream media presented the nightmare tenant story, rather than the nightmare landlord”, van den Berg says.  

“They’ve [the media] noticed this is affecting their readers”.  

This shift in the conversation is seeping into politics with talks about renters’ issues at both a state and federal level. The Greens promised to back the Federal Government’s help-to-buy scheme if it includes comprehensive reform to rental rights, including the establishment of rental caps, similar to what already exists in other countries. 

Recently, van den Berg met with NSW Minister of Housing Rose Jackson for a conversation he described as “really promising”.  

“She acknowledged the concerns that I and many renters have and the difficulties in tackling these concerns,” he says. 

But while he sees the positive in the government listening to renters, he remains concerned that the government simply “wants to be seen listening”. Jackson’s office did not respond to a request for comment. 

For him, the solution isn’t just the long-term project of building more housing but an approach that assists current renters, including rent caps and freezes, regulating short-stay accommodation, actively reducing the price of housing, and properly regulating the rental market instead of relying on tenants to regulate their own rentals.  

“Renters are struggling now; none of the proposed solutions are addressing that”, he says.  

The NSW Government is currently seeking feedback on regulating short-term rentals and its effects on the lack of long-term rentals – find out more here.