Property managers flout privacy rules

Property managers are in the gun to ask potential tenants to share more information than is legally allowed to secure a home, helping shape the regulatory record.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022, 11:07 a.m.

by Sally Lindsay

Consumer NZ recently used mystery shoppers to uncover the amount of information rental property managers were collecting from tenants, potentially breaching privacy law.

Alarmingly, 6% of letting agents asked mystery shoppers to include bank statements in their rental application, which is not allowed under the Office of the Commissioner of Protection’s tenant guidelines. privacy (OPC).

About 10% of agents encouraged buyers to provide additional information with a cover letter and rental resume, which could include information such as age, gender, relationship status, and employment status.

Some property managers said that the more information the buyer gave, “the more likely they were to [of securing a rental property] and the smoother the process.”

One suggested that additional information would “help the buyer’s app stand out from the rest.”

Mystery shoppers also asked how their information would be stored, and 14% of rental agents were visibly disinterested in the caller when they asked about the privacy and security of their information.

Mystery shopper says the more questions she asks, the less interested she is [the agent] seemed, and [he] almost annoyed by them”.

As part of the study, Consumer asked people to share their experiences in the rental industry. This received one of the highest response rates in the watchdog’s history.

Gray, a 25-year-old from Christchurch, said her landlord asked ‘really weird questions’, including how long she had kept her phone number, and asked for her boss’s phone number to verify her whereabouts. work.

Gray was also asked to provide bank statements and salary details.

Support for tenants

OPC guidelines for tenants state that a landlord should not ask for bank statements to assess their spending habits. “Asking tenants how they spend their money is unfair and unreasonably intrusive except in exceptional circumstances,” says the OPC.

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said the rental market remains tough in many parts of the country and many potential tenants are offering more information than necessary just to have a chance of being considered. for a property.

“It is concerning that some tenants are expected and encouraged to disclose sensitive private information, but it also raises questions about what happens to that information.”

Duffy says some property managers might discriminate against certain applicants, based on the information they provide.

The OPC developed its guidelines in response to growing concerns about a power imbalance between tenants and landlords due to a shortage in the housing market.

“Some property management agencies were asking for detailed information from potential tenants as part of their screening process,” says Privacy Commissioner Michael Webster.

little power

“Recognizing that tenants have little power to challenge those responsible for securing their homes, the OPC has taken a proactive stance to protect the rights and privacy of tenants and potential tenants.

“We worked with property management agencies and tenant advocates to develop guidelines to clarify the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords under the Privacy Act,” says Webster.

He says the mystery shopping is a way for the OPC to monitor how well the guidelines are being followed and to target our compliance activities.

OPC guidelines for tenants state that landlords should not collect unnecessary and intrusive information from potential tenants.

However, it also states that the amount of information a potential tenant gives a landlord when applying for a property is their choice – but the amount of information provided can affect a landlord’s decision to offer. a property.

Guidance designed to help landlords and property managers comply with the Privacy Act (2020) states that a landlord or property manager should never ask a potential tenant for information protected by the Privacy Act (2020). human rights, including:

  • Sex (including pregnancy and childbirth);
  • Sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • Family relationship or situation;
  • Religious or ethical beliefs;
  • Color, race, ethnicity or national origin (including nationality or citizenship);
  • Disability or physical or mental illness;
  • Age (other than if the renter is over 18);
  • Political opinion;
  • Employment status (being unemployed, on benefits or on ACC.

under pressure

Duffy says potential tenants shouldn’t be disadvantaged for refusing to provide information that shouldn’t be asked for at all.

“Tenants feel compelled to share personal information to market themselves to a potential landlord or agent,” he says.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the requester how much information they share. From our perspective, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Duffy says Consumer hopes the search results will encourage realtors to clean up their act.

Duffy says the survey results argue for more regulation of real estate agents. The Ministry of Housing and Urbanism is studying a regulatory regime.

Tags: property management

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