The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) announced the possibility of mystery shopper spot-checks coming into play in the near future as a means to determine how well landlords are complying with the new privacy rules for the rental sector.
The collection and storage of tenants’ personal information has always been governed by the Privacy Act (2020). However, the OPC has noted a significant increase in the number of complaints in recent years. Likely a result of the huge demand for housing coupled with the nation’s lack of available housing stock.
Our position in a digitalised era raises further concerns about how tenants’ information is collected and handled. For example, “bad tenant” lists on websites and social media can put tenants at a significant disadvantage.
Following the increased number of complaints, the new compliance monitoring programme and guidance came into effect. As a result, landlords can anticipate regular checks, annual surveys to audit application forms, contract forms, and privacy policies
Acting Privacy Commissioner, Liz MacPherson, says that while the results of these checks have been encouraging, the commissioner is “considering carrying out mystery shopper activities that will spot-check that property managers and landlords are asking for the right information, at the right time, in a responsible way”.
The OPC has employed a no-tolerance policy for the over-collection and unauthorised use of personal information. Landlords and rental agencies who fail to comply should expect warning letters, compliance notices, referral to the Human Rights Review Tribunal and Public Interest Inquiries. If non-compliance continues, landlords could face a fine of up to $10,000.
Due to a lack of education, self-managing landlords may find themselves overwhelmed by the regulations. Tenants – particularly first-time renters, may over-provide information at an early stage of the application process in an effort to increase their chances of success.
Initially, tenants only need to provide basic information to secure a viewing. No further information is required unless the individuals advance to the preferred applicant stage. As a landlord, it is your responsibility to ensure that only the information you need is collected.
If you are unsure of your obligations, please reach out to our team of property management experts. We can assist you in your landlord journey and reduce your risk of facing penalties.
What information can a landlord ask for when viewing a property?
When you are arranging to view a property, the landlord can only request basic information. This includes your name and contact details. It is important to note that the purpose of collecting information at this stage is only to follow up with the prospective tenant after the viewing.
What information can a landlord ask you for when applying for a property?
At this stage of the application process, the landlord can ask you for more information. The information that is requested must aid the landlord in their efforts to decide whether applicants are likely suitable tenants.
The information that the landlord may ask for includes:
- Name and contact information.
- Proof of identity.
- Asking if the applicant is aged 18 years or older.
- The number of people who would live at the property.
- Names only of occupants who will not be on the tenancy agreement (e.g. flatmates, dependents), but not other personal details about non-tenants.
- Contact details for references.
- Consent to contact referees.
- Consent for a credit report and criminal record check (only if you are in negotiation with a tenant about an offer of tenancy).
- Pet ownership (if applicable).
- Whether any occupants are smokers (if there are restrictions on smoking at the property).
- Whether the tenant has a legal right to remain in New Zealand for the duration of a tenancy (only if the tenancy is for a fixed term).
What information can a landlord ask you for when checking preferred applicants?
During this stage, the landlord can collect information that will confirm that the preferred applicants are likely to be suitable tenants.
This may include:
- Any additional information needed to carry out credit or criminal record checks (e.g. date of birth or copies of ID documents)
- Evidence of ability to pay rent – in addition to a credit report, you can ask for one other form of evidence (e.g. pay slip, letter from employer or Work and Income, evidence of rental payments in previous tenancy). You can’t ask for evidence of tenants’ spending habits, such as detailed bank statements.
What information can a landlord request when creating a tenancy agreement?
Once the offer of tenancy has been accepted, the landlord can ask for the following information:
- Vehicle information (relevant to parking).
- Service address.
- Contact details for emergency contact.
- Work and Income client number (if applicable).
What information can a landlord request during your tenancy?
At this stage, the tenants are living at the property and the goal of the landlord is to manage the ongoing relationship.
Landlords may take photos and notes from inspections at this stage. However, the images should provide no more information than necessary to document the condition of the property. Any notes or photos should not intrude unreasonably into the tenants’ personal affairs (i.e. should not focus too much on personal items).
Can a landlord ask me about my religious beliefs?
No. The Human Rights Act 1993 protects personal characteristics. This prohibits landlords from asking about:
- Sex (including pregnancy or childbirth).
- Relationships or family status.
- Political opinions, religious or ethical beliefs.
- Colour, race, or ethnicity (including nationality or citizenship).
- Physical or mental disability or illness.
- Age (other than whether the tenant is over 18).
- Employment status (unemployed, on a benefit or on ACC).
- Sexual orientation or gender identity.
Can a landlord request to see my social media?
No, landlords should not ask for access to view your social media accounts.
Can a landlord ask about my COVID-19 vaccination status?
Before asking this, landlords must first try to find an alternative way to keep everyone safe. For example, by arranging rental inspections when the tenant is outside the property, or social distancing and wearing masks.