Rentals are grim and expensive. Should young people squat instead?

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In this age of cozzie livs, TikToker Purple Pingers is offering Gen Z unconventional housing advice.

Elaine Obran

ANU Reporter Senior Writer

If you have ever shared a room with black mould, tiptoed over perpetually squishy carpet, or experienced the cold fury of finding a dead mouse in your kitchen, chances are it’s because you have rented an Australian home.

Paying too much money to rent a dodgy dwelling is a grim reality many young Australians are forced to face amid the cost-of-living crisis and worsening housing market.

But lawyer and housing advocate Jordie van den Berg is helping people find unorthodox solutions.

Better known by his alias Purple Pingers, van den Berg has garnered millions of views exposing Australia’s worst rental properties on social media. On his website shitrentals, tenants can also review these houses anonymously.

The TikTok star is now advocating for people who can’t afford rent hikes to find shelter by squatting in what he refers to as a "hoarding" of Australian homes.  

"We had old people, who benefitted from... really, really generous housing policy, pull the ladder up behind them, and then leave young people to just figure it out on their own," van den Berg told the.

Wayne Morgan is an Associate Professor from The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law. He says squatters’ movements have a history in Australia.

"If we think about our history, colonial Australia was founded on squatting. Whether they were ex-convicts or people from the United Kingdom who were ’immigrating’, they often moved onto land without any legal right to do so.

"Of course, the incredibly dark flip side of that coin was the genocide of Indigenous Australians which was validated by colonial governments issuing land titles to the squatters."

So, if people follow Purple Pingers’ advice and take up residence in someone’s unoccupied investment property or holiday home, are they committing a crime?

"We have to distinguish between criminal law and civil law," Morgan says.

"Under criminal law, if you break into a home, even if it’s empty, you are guilty of breaking and entering and may be guilty of a criminal offence.

"However, if the front door is already broken down, or already open, then you may not be guilty of any criminal offence.

"When it comes to the civil side of things, if the property is empty and if no one with the right to do so (aka the owner) challenges your possession, you can stay there. You’re guilty of trespassing, but that’s not necessarily a criminal offence. It’s sort of like a civil wrong."

While squatting may be a polarising solution to the cost of living crisis, Morgan points out that access to housing isn’t a utopian ideal but a "human right."  

"For many decades, international law has recognised that housing is a human right, and yet, in this country, as in many Western countries, we seem to privilege the concept of private ownership - even if the owner isn’t doing anything with that land or that property."

It’s this landlord vs renter power dynamic that leaves Gen Z vulnerable to grim living conditions and rent hikes. Something Australian laws fall short on protecting them from.

"We seem to have a housing situation in Australia where there is an imbalance between the rights of renters and the rights of landlords," Morgan says.

"Every state and territory is different - that in itself is a problem.

"There aren’t many restrictions on how often a landlord can put the rent up or how much they can put it up by. A lot of jurisdictions still have concepts of no-fault eviction. So even if a tenant has not done anything wrong, if they don’t have a fixed term lease, then they can be evicted on the basis of no fault."

Believe it or not, there is a precedent for squatters’ movements creating change.  

"In Melbourne, the Squatter’s Union of Victoria was founded in 1981. That movement had some success because the Victorian Government did make commitments to housing as a result," Morgan says.

In the current ’cozzie livs’ crisis, it’s hard to tell whether Gen Z will have similar success.

"Young people simply do not have the advantages that my generation had, or indeed, that the Baby Boomers had before me," Morgan says.

"They face less secure employment, lower wages and the astronomical increase in the cost of housing means that young people often rent for far longer than they would have in the past.

"In my generation, it wasn’t at all’unusual for people to be able to put down a deposit on a home by the time they were 30. That’s no longer the case for so many young people."

While housing crisis discourse continues to fill van den Berg’s comment section, perhaps something all generations can agree on is that more needs to be done to address this issue. 

"We know that governments aren’t doing enough with respect to housing policy and social housing. Everyone agrees, including economists," says Morgan.  

"If people can’t afford rent, what choice do they have? They are going to follow the advice of people like Purple Pingers."