Jordan is going after Australia’s empty houses. His method is getting him death threats (2024)

Jordan van den Berg knows it's definitely not the antidote to the housing crisis, he does not encourage breaking and entering and believes bigger changes must be made to make housing more affordable.

But is he encouraging squatting and setting up a database to help people connect with houses that appear empty and unused? Yes, he is.

"It's hard to see all the abandoned homes when there are tent cities appearing nearby", he says.

Many housing solutions take years to build, van den Berg adds, but the problem is now. "People are struggling now. People need housing now."

You might know Jordan as Purple Pingers, the man behind 'sh*t rental' videos and his website where punters can review rentals, agencies and real estate agents.

With his unenthused, exasperated voice, he's built a TikTok audience of 150,000 followers while advocating for renters and reporting on the dire aspects of Australia's rental market over the past three years.

Exposing unresponsive real estate agents, fact-checking misleading rental listings and sharing the bad shape of some properties has been a way for him and his followers to feel like they're gaining some power back, he says.

Last week, he decided to take it a step further.

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He asked his followers to submit addresses of empty properties they've spotted which he can pass on to someone who needs it.

In a matter of days, he's had 409 property submissions — most are which are Australian properties, but there are US addresses in the mix too.

"It's unjust to have people sleeping on the street when we have multimillion-dollar homes lying around vacant," he told The Feed.

The houses are located around population centres, usually in capital cities, and about 60 per cent are in Melbourne, Australia's second-largest capital city.

The selection and state of the houses are mixed, but many of the properties are worth upward of $1 million, based on Domain sales Jordan has found online, he says. Some are even worth as much as $4 or $5 million.

Since starting the database, which he keeps private, Jordan has started matching people with empty houses close by. He's done this now a few times.

Jordan says he avoids prying about people's living situations but says some have shared that they are living in insecure or unsafe housing. One person who has been "matched" with an empty house had been living in their car.

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The encouragement to squat has not been without extensive pushback with some people even sending Jordan violent messages and death threats.

"It's the owner's house, that means he owns it. That means he can do whatever he wants with it," one person said in a comment under his video.

Jordan concedes, "whether or not that's the right thing to do is up for debate," but the law graduate reminds his audience that squatting may not be illegal in Australia.

"Squatting is quite clearly not the ideal solution to our housing crisis in Australia, but it obviously makes rich people angry and when rich people are angry, often something gets done," he said.

"Being homeless is incredibly risky. I think you've got to pick your battles."

How many empty properties are in Australia?

There could be up to 136,000 empty houses in Australia, according to recent estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2023.

There have been some attempts to reduce this number in Australia, including a vacant land tax on residential properties in parts of Victoria. Last December, the bill was expanded to "discourage land banking and encourage new housing developments".

It's an approach Jordan thinks should be taken nationally to encourage people with vacant houses to sell them or rent them out.

What are the laws around squatting?

In Australia, it may not be illegal for a squatter to enter a property if it looks abandoned and the doors are unlocked. If the door isn't unlocked, the squatter could be criminally charged for breaking and entering. If a property owner asks a squatter to leave and they stay, they are trespassing.

Why do these laws even exist? John Bui, a principal lawyer at JB Solicitors in Sydney, said Australia's squatting laws exist to encourage mindful and efficient use of the land, with owners having obligations of their own to maintain a property.

"If they're not maintaining that land, and they've abandoned the property, then it'd be a waste not to allow someone else to use it," he said.

Some landowners have had bad experiences with squatters. One homeowner, Emma Cook, told The Feed in December that while everyone "has the right to a roof over their heads" this was not the way to do it.

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After finding a squatter sleeping on her porch, she said she had: "An innate fear of coming home. I'd always make sure I'd leave lights on."

Marco Arnese, President of the Landlord Association in South Australia said squatting was "outright wrong".

"That’s the livelihood of someone. For someone to repossess a home from a squatter is quite involved. It puts unnecessary stress on the landlord or the owner of the property," Arnese said.

"If they’re condemned they’re unsafe to live in so the landlord has a duty of care to provide safe accommodation so that might be one reason that they’re vacant. They [a squatter] might be putting themselves in harm’s way."

In Australia, a claim for the title could be possible under adverse possession laws in all Australian states if a person has managed to squat there long enough — 12 years in all states, bar Victoria, where it is 15 years. There is no provision for adverse possession in the ACT and NT.

All Australian states have adverse possession laws or 'squatter's rights'. There are no such rights in the ACT and NT.

Jordan is going after Australia’s empty houses. His method is getting him death threats (4)

Adverse possession laws or squatters rights exist in all Australian states. Credit: SBS The Feed

In 1998, Sydney property developer Bill Gertos walked into a three-bedroom house, taking it as his own after learning the elderly owner had died.

He renovated, changed the locks and put renters in the place for 20 years - so essentially had them squatting for him.

In 2018, he won the title to the house, and he sold it in 2020, making $1.4 million.

Jordan thinks the time it takes to make an adverse possession claim in Australian states should be reduced.

"The idea that we should use land productively now for some reason is not in vogue anymore."

Jordan is going after Australia’s empty houses. His method is getting him death threats (2024)


Jordan is going after Australia’s empty houses. His method is getting him death threats? ›

The encouragement to squat has not been without extensive pushback with some people even sending Jordan violent messages and death threats. "It's the owner's house, that means he owns it. That means he can do whatever he wants with it," one person said in a comment under his video.

What caused the housing crisis in Australia? ›

Supply Constraints: Land Availability and Planning Laws

These supply constraints have had a significant impact on the housing market, exacerbating the housing crisis and making it even more challenging for Australians to find affordable homes. As a result: Land becomes scarcer. Planning laws fail to adapt quickly ...

What percentage of Australian houses are empty? ›

The 2021 Census reveals that 10.1% (1,043,776 homes) of Australia's 10,318,997 private dwellings were unoccupied on the night of the Census. Some 89% of the dwellings were in use as a primary residence, 9.7% were in use but not as a primary residence and 1.3% showed no sign of recent use.

Why is homelessness getting worse in Australia? ›

With an ageing population and the increased cost of home ownership this problem is expected to get worse. Factors such as domestic violence, relationship breakdown, financial difficulty and limited superannuation can make people more vulnerable to homelessness.

How bad is Australia's housing crisis? ›

There's 640,000 households who are not just in rental stress, but the most severe, dire rental stress that really puts them at risk of becoming homeless. We've got median house prices in major cities like Sydney, so expensive, that you actually need to be on an income over $200,000 to get a loan.

When did the Australian housing crisis start? ›

While the conditions may have been set long ago, the key changes that culminated in this affordability crisis began around 2000. Discounts on capital gains, introduced by the Howard government in 1999, lit the fuse on this housing bonfire.

What is the root cause of the housing crisis? ›

Causes. The imbalance between supply and demand resulted from strong economic growth creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs (which increases demand for housing) and the insufficient construction of new housing units to provide enough supply to meet the demand.

What started the housing crisis? ›

Causes proposed include the inability of homeowners to make their mortgage payments (due primarily to adjustable-rate mortgages resetting, borrowers overextending, predatory lending, and speculation), overbuilding during the boom period, risky mortgage products, increased power of mortgage originators, high personal ...

What is the problem with housing supply in Australia? ›

Across the past two decades, Australia has significantly underdelivered new housing supply across the nation, according to the report. This undersupply has underpinned the ongoing erosion of housing affordability, driving down homeownership rates and increasing household debt.

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