Can you ask me that? What landlords should and shouldn’t be able to ask

Jessica Satherley
Can you ask me that? What landlords should and shouldn’t be able to ask

A list of off-limits questions for potential tenants has ignited a debate over what is, and isn’t, appropriate to ask when assessing potential renters. 

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) had released guidelines on what was justified for landlords to ask of prospective tenants.  

The OPC had said drivers licence numbers were “almost never justified” and credit checks were only “sometimes justified”. 

It was also never justified to ask someone’s employment history or banking history. 

Some landlords objected to the list though saying some of the “never justified” items were necessary. 

Andrew King from NZ Property Investors Federation said driver licence numbers, for example, were “a main way of identifying someone”.  

“References can also be easily falsified, so we recommend they do a credit check, rather than relying on just a reference,” he said. 

The report had previously said: “Collect the minimum amount of personal information necessary to make that decision.   

“If a credit report shows that an applicant is creditworthy, there’s no need to collect their bank statements.” 

The OPC had modelled their privacy guideline on a Canadian guideline that also had issues being adopted in practical terms, Scotney Williams of Tenancy.co.nz said. 

“The OPC’s objective is simply to ensure that data is not being used for an unlawful purpose, and the unlawful purpose they are focused on is unlawful discrimination. 

“However, in releasing a guideline that attempts to protect tenants from this issue, it contradicts a need for property managers and landlords to do adequate due diligence. 

“Based on the meeting tenancy.co.nz had with the OPC, most of the first draft guideline is being reviewed to address these issues and our view is that the second version will work from a practical perspective,” Williams said. 

Chair of the Property Managers Institute of New Zealand Karen Withers said: “Our main issue was that there was no consultation involved with landlord groups, property managers or stakeholders in the industry. 

“So, it needed to go back to the drawing board for a workable solution.” 

An OPC spokesperson says, “We are in the process of reworking it to make it clearer and to remove any seeming contradictions in the initial guidance.” 

“Part of this process included working with a number of groups which contacted us,” they said. 

The OPC expects to have their new version available in August.  The information below was the original list that is now being re-worked. 

The following information was ‘always justified’: 

  •      Name and proof of identity 
  •      Contact information 
  •      Name and contact information for current landlord 
  •      One or two previous landlords as references 
  •      Expected length of tenancy applied for 
  •      Whether the applicant has ever been evicted 
  •      Pet ownership 
  •      Whether the applicant must give notice at their current accommodation 
  •      Authorisation to perform a criminal record check 
  •      Number of occupants who will live in the unit 

‘Sometimes justified’ was listed as: 

  •      Personal references – where landlord references aren’t available 
  •      Current income verification (e.g. pay slips, redacted bank statements) - where satisfactory references aren’t available 
  •      Authorisation to collect a credit report – where satisfactory references aren’t available 
  •      Whether the prospective tenant is a smoker – if it’s a non-smoking property 
  •      Reasons for leaving previous tenancy 

‘Almost never justified’ was as follows: 

  •      Broad consent to collect personal information from ‘other sources’ 
  •      Driver licence number 
  •      Credit card information 
  •      Nationality, ethnicity, origin or citizenship 
  •      Physical or mental disability or illness 
  •      Personal beliefs or opinions 
  •      Marital and family status 
  •      Current expenses 
  •      Conflicts with previous neighbour tenants or building managers 
  •      Proof of insurance 
  •      Languages spoken 
  •      Details about current accommodation 
  •      Banking history 
  •      Employment history 

Once a prospective tenant has been selected for a property to rent, it may have been justified to collect additional information such as: 

  •      Payment information you’ll need to collect rent 
  •      Name and number / address of an emergency contact person 
  •      Vehicle information, such as vehicle registration number, make and model, if the tenant will be parking on your property 
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