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Unreal Estate: Blowing the Lid on Rental Horrors

Black mould, rotting carpets, sewage leaksMeet Shit Rentals founder Jordan van den Berg, whose viral videos are exposing Australia’s most disgusting rental properties. 

What made you start filming comical reviews of dodgy rental listings?

Honestly, at the start I was just bored! I was stuck in my rented house during the Melbourne lockdowns. I wanted to make fun of an industry I really disliked, one that's treated vulnerable people harshly. Every renter has had a bad experience with a real estate agent.

Your early videos set the tone: deadpan delivery, show no mercy, clip your microphone to a giant zucchini. How did people react?

Agents were not happy. But the response from renters was really positive. Thousands of people all over Australia started sending me property listings to review. There were too many. And it seemed unfair for some white guy on social media to be telling all these people's stories.

So I set up the Shit Rentals website. People submit their own anonymous reviews of rental properties and agents. There's about 2600 reviews up now.

Shit Rentals is huge on social media. Why has it struck such a chord?

Renting is the reality for so many people today. The people in charge - politicians, media owners, heads of industry - grew up when renting was a transitional period, something you did temporarily before buying a house.

Now the number of renters has grown massively. People are living in shitholes for years at time, and all the evidence suggests that it takes years off their lives. Research shows us that renters age faster . Renting brings people closer to death.

Renters are terrified of blacklists. You're careful to protect people's identities. But every agent in Australia curses your name. Do you worry about blacklists?

I couldn't run Shit Rentals if I was still renting. But I've got my own unit now, along with a lovely mortgage. People who own property can't get evicted. So privileged people like me have an obligation speak up.

That's part of the problem: there's a massive power imbalance. Renters can't afford to speak up. The official rental blacklists are regulated, but we also have this unregulated reference system. Real estate agents can ring each other and say whatever they want about tenants. They can badmouth you, and you'll never find out.

Tenants have stronger rights in some countries. Why do Australian renters get such a raw deal?

It's a cultural problem. Australia has this horrific history where we colonised a country. When people got released from their convict status, they were given land grants. Back in England, those people would never have been able to own land. So that become part of the Australian dream: I want my land, and I want more of it. And governments have spent decades incentivising that goal through various tax policies.

The rental crisis is pushing more Australians into homelessness. What has changed in the four years since Shit Rentals started?

The market is getting much tighter. People are desperate, so really shit properties aren't listed for long. Tenants are accepting places they know don't meet minimum rental standards.

The industry has also become more thuggish. Some agents now do social media checks on rental applicants. And they're hiding things better. They know the laws are on their side. Unless that changes, they'll keep getting away with it.

Imagine you're the Prime Minister. What changes would you make?

There are some easy things. When you register a vehicle, there's a compulsory safety check. I'd introduce a system like that for rentals, where an independent organisation does a safety check on every rental property.

Changing the culture is a bigger issue. I'd immediately get rid of the capital gains tax discount. And negative gearing, which only exists to benefit the wealthy. Remove the incentives to invest in property for profit. And I'd get property developers out of politics: make it illegal for politicians to accept their donations.

Unlike the property industry, tenants can't afford to lobby government. We need a proper consultation system, so that governments listen to renters. Also, most politicians are landlords. They shouldn't be able to vote on laws that benefit them directly. That's a conflict of interest. So they'd have to recuse themselves.

You're a lawyer by trade. How do you juggle Shit Rentals with your day job? And what keeps you coming back?

I work full-time as a public servant. When I clock off, I do Shit Rentals stuff. I have some great people helping me with content moderation. But I don't get much sleep.

The subject matter can be depressing, and there's no money in it. But I'm passionate about helping people, so I find it very fulfilling.

Jordan van den Berg (AKA purplepingers) runs, a website exposing awful properties, dishonest agents, and illegal practices in Australia's rental market. You can watch Jordie's deadpan videos and sundry antics on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter/X, and Reddit.

Interview and write-up by Meg Mundell.

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