Property managers could break the law by asking potential tenants to share personal information, including bank statements, gender and relationship status, says Consumer NZ.
As part of a study of rental property managers, the watchdog conducted a nationwide “mystery shop” of agents to find out if they were following the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s guidelines. privacy (OPC).
The exercise revealed that one in 10 tenants asked potential tenants to share more personal information than necessary in their applications.
The OPC’s guidelines were designed to help landlords and property managers comply with the Privacy Act and state that a landlord or property manager should never ask a potential tenant for information protected under of the Human Rights Act.
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This includes sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, relationship or family status, religious or ethical beliefs, color, race, ethnic origin or nationality, disability or physical illness or mental health, age, political opinion and professional status.
MONIQUE FORD / TIPS
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The guidelines also state that a potential tenant should never be asked to provide bank statements for their spending habits to be examined.
Mystery shoppers posing as potential tenants have questioned letting agents about the information they collect from tenants.
In the mystery shop, 10% of agents encouraged the caller to provide additional information with a cover letter and “hire resume”, which could include information such as age range, gender, status relationship and professional status.
A property manager said: “The more information you give, the better your chances [of securing a rental property]”.
Another agent echoed that sentiment, telling the mystery shopper “the more information you provide [about yourself]the smoother the process,” while another suggested additional information “to make your application stand out from the rest.”
As part of the study, Consumer also asked the public to share their experiences of the rental sector. The call received one of the highest response rates in the organization’s history.
Gray, a 25-year-old woman in Christchurch, said her landlord was asking ‘really weird questions’ including how long she had kept her current phone number and her boss’s phone number to verify her workplace .
She was also asked to provide bank statements and information about her salary.
Alarmingly, 6% of agents asked mystery shoppers to include bank statements in their request, a request that could violate the Privacy Act.
Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said the rental market remained tough in many places and many potential tenants were offering more information than necessary just to have a chance of being considered for a rental. 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,” he said.
“Property managers could discriminate against certain applicants, based on the information they provide.”
Mystery shoppers also asked how their information would be stored, and 14% of agents were visibly disinterested in the mystery shopper when asking about the privacy and security of their information.
One mystery shopper said, “the more questions I asked, the less interested I became [the agent] seemed, and [he] almost annoyed by them”.
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.
Privacy Commissioner Michael Webster said some property management agencies were asking for “very detailed” information from potential tenants.
“Recognizing that tenants had little power to challenge those responsible for securing their homes, we have taken a proactive stance to protect the rights and privacy of tenants and potential tenants.
“We have worked with rental agencies and tenant advocates to develop guidelines to clarify the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords under the Privacy Act. »
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Mystery buying was a way for the OPC to monitor how well guidelines were being followed and to target its compliance activities, he said.
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.
Potential tenants should not be disadvantaged for refusing to provide information that should not be requested at all.
“Tenants feel compelled to share personal information to market themselves to a potential landlord or agent,” Duffy said.
“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.
“We hope the results of this research will encourage estate agents to clean up their act. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner and Consumer NZ will continue to monitor this space. »