The Privacy Commission is taking a hard line on landlords and property managers who ask prospective tenants the wrong questions.

The new Privacy Act 2020 strengthened privacy protections and reflects changes in technology. It governs how agencies collect, store, use, disclose, and give access to personal information. 

Tenants’ privacy rights hit the news earlier this year when a renters’ advocacy group highlighted the inappropriate and invasive questions that some landlords were asking. 

Tenants were being asked about their race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliations and whether they were planning to have children. In one case a landlord asked for copies of bank statements to assess whether a tenant could afford to pay rent. 

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner was looking into claims of “bad tenant” blacklists being shared on social media. This is not just a likely privacy breach; it could also lead to a defamation claim against anyone publishing the information. 

Only find out what you need to know

You should only collect personal information from tenants if the information is necessary for renting the property, and the type of information you can collect will vary depending on what stage you’re at in the rental process. 

When someone enquires about viewing a property for rent, the only information you need is their name and contact details. If they apply for a tenancy, you’ll need to know more, but you should only ask for the information you need to decide whether they’d be a suitable tenant. 

At Angel Property Managers, we keep ourselves up to date with all legislation. We’re diligent about keeping landlords on the right side of all laws and regulations, and about protecting the rights of our tenants.

The Privacy Commissioner has published a set of guidelines on what information landlords should and shouldn’t ask for when deciding if someone is a suitable tenant. It’s fine to ask about things like pet ownership or whether a tenant smokes, but more personal questions are prohibited.

What you can and can’t ask

Landlords must not ask renters for information protected by the Human Rights Act, such as physical or mental disability, family status, ethnicity, political opinion, employment status, sexual orientation, gender identity, spending habits, social media details, or whether they have experienced family violence.

Before asking about an applicant’s Covid-19 vaccination status, landlords must try to find an alternative way to keep everyone safe. For example, they could arrange rental inspections when the current tenant is out, or by social distancing and wearing masks.

The law applies to all landlords, whether you’re an individual renting out a single property or a property manager looking after hundreds of properties. You must collect and handle personal information responsibly and in accordance with the Privacy Act.

Consequences of getting it wrong

In March the Office of the Commissioner started looking at companies’ tenancy application forms, tenancy agreement forms, privacy policies and statements and websites to make sure they’re compliant with the Privacy Act. They’ll target large and small operations using mystery shoppers to check they are asking for the right information, at the right time, in a responsible way.

Prospective tenants can refuse to share information and can make a complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner if the refusal is not accepted. Landlords using old forms should tell applicants that they’ll be updated and that they don’t need to answer any inappropriate questions.

There are tough penalties for non-compliance, including referral to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, public naming of the agency, or a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner. The penalty for failing to comply with a Compliance Notice is a fine of up to $10,000.

Angel Property Managers are also a trusted partner with the Tenancy Practice Services. (Also known as The Tenancy Practice Services bridges the gap between law and reality by providing many different resources and tools to property management businesses. 

If you’re an investment property owner wanting to avoid the privacy minefield and other pitfalls of managing your own tenancies, give us a call today and see how we can help.