As many of you will know, The Privacy Commission recently decided to design and publish what landlords could and couldn’t ask prospective tenants when looking to let out a property. Despite being just guidelines, it is likely that the Tenancy Tribunal would give the Commission’s ideas considerable standing.
Some aspects were reasonable however many were not. It was unfortunate that they didn’t consult with the industry before coming up with their guidelines.
The guidelines were divided into three sections. Questions that were always justified, sometimes justified, and almost never justified - which would effectively mean you couldn’t ask it.
While it was justified to ask if the tenant had pets it was only sometimes justifiable to ask if they smoked. Why the difference?
There were some obvious and serious anomalies, such as it being always justifiable to get proof of identity, however almost never justifiable to get the prospects drivers license number. We all know that seeing a driver’s license is the main way landlords verify proof of identity.
The Commission also considered it almost never justifiable to ask a prospective tenant about conflicts with previous neighbours, other tenants or building managers. However, this is essential to get a good impression of a prospective tenant. It will be even more important if new rules on tenants’ security of tenure make it extremely difficult to end the tenancy of a problem tenant.
One of the more serious matters was obtaining a credit check. Around 12 years ago a previous Privacy Commissioner wanted to ban landlords from obtaining a credit check for tenants at all. The NZPIF put up a strenuous argument the ban, which fortunately was successful.
So, it is very concerning that the new guidelines proposed to make obtaining a credit check only allowable when other satisfactory references were not available. Such an essential part of vetting a prospective tenant should be always allowed.
After Scotney Williams and the Property Managers Institute met with the Privacy Commission, the commission removed the guidelines from their website, which was a good outcome.
NZPIF President, Sharon Cullwick, and I have also met with the Commission to explain vetting tenants from an Owner Managers point of view. We felt that this was important as around 70% of New Zealand rental properties are owner managed on a part time basis, often holding down a full time job as well.
We explained that Owner Managers are often more time challenged and may not actually show a property to all applicants. Because of this, they need good information from the outset. We likened it to employers not holding interviews for every applicant looking for a position.
The Commission were very interested to learn more about what it is like at the coal face of providing rental property to people. They appeared to genuinely understand our point of view and be receptive to changing their guidelines, which is appreciated.
Although not confirmed, they are looking at making positive changes to the guidelines that allow landlords to professionally and carefully vet prospective tenants while still protecting tenant applicant’s privacy.
Rather than saying what is always, sometimes and nearly never acceptable to ask, they are renaming the sections what you can ask when someone applies for a rental, after you have chosen a preferred applicant and what is not relevant when choosing a tenant.
The draft version we were shown, not available for public consideration yet, was a vast improvement on their original draft. There are still some minor points we raised that we hope will be incorporated into the final guidelines.
We will also be working with the Commission to provide further education and clarity to PIA members regarding privacy matters.
Along with the Capital Gains decision, plus concessions on the RTA Review and Healthy Homes Standards, it is good to start chalking up some wins that will benefit both rental providers and tenants.