Credit check ban unreasonable

Thursday 23 May 2019

Preventing landlords from running credit checks on prospective tenants - as mandated by new privacy guidelines - is not reasonable, tenancy experts say.

By Miriam Bell

The Privacy Commissioner’s recently released guidelines on what landlords can and can’t ask people when selecting tenants are concerning landlords.

That’s because there are some stock standard tenant selection practices which are apparently ruled out by the new guidelines.

Prime among these is asking for authorisation to collect a credit report. According to the guidelines that is only “sometimes justified”.

Tenancy expert Scotney Williams, of tenancy.co.nz, says credit checks are a stock standard practice in the industry when selecting tenants.

“It is necessary to complete due diligence when placing a tenant into a tenancy and it is not reasonable to expect that landlords shouldn’t ask for them.

“For property managers, failing to run a credit check could be seen by the owner as negligence.”

He says the feedback they are getting is that this, along with other aspects of the guidelines, is confusing for both landlords and property managers.

REINZ chief executive Bindi Norwell agrees that the suggestion that credit checks are ‘sometimes justified’ is of concern.

Landlords run a business and as part of that need to ensure tenants can meet their financial obligations, she says.

“Most REINZ property management members always perform a credit check as this is an expectation from landlords to ensure a person does not have a history of being unable to pay off debt.

“Failure to do this would potentially be negligent on a property manager’s part and could result in them losing the landlord’s business.”

Both Williams and Norwell point to the guideline’s prohibition on asking someone’s age and/or to see a drivers license number as areas of confusion.

When it comes to age, the Residential Tenancies Act requires a tenancy agreement to state whether a tenant is under the age of 18, so the guidelines mean it is unclear how a landlord can determine that.

As to drivers’ licences, the guidelines say it’s ‘almost never justified’ to ask for them, Williams says.

“Yet they are usually used as someone’s proof of identity and the guidelines say it is ‘always justified’ to ask for proof of identity.”

Additionally, there are discrepancies between the guidelines and the advice offered by different government departments.

Norwell says that on MBIE’s website, advice to landlords is that they can add extra conditions to the tenancy agreement if they relate to things that may damage the house or cause extra wear and tear.

“For example, not allowing the tenant to smoke in the house, yet the Privacy Commission’s guidelines state that asking whether a tenant smokes is only ‘sometimes justified’.”

Another example is the Ministry of Social Development recommendation to tenants that they give landlords a letter from their employer about their employment or show a bank statement showing regular income.

Yet both of these suggestions fall under the Commission’s ‘almost never justified’ category, Norwell says.

“If these discrepancies aren’t resolved, then it may result in an increased workload for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner if tenants complain unnecessarily.”

She adds they are disappointed the industry was not consulted on the guidelines but that, going forward, they’d like to work with the Commissioner to help ensure the guidelines are effective and can work in practice.

Likewise, Williams says his office is seeking further clarification on points on confusion in the guidelines.

“It is important for landlords and property managers to maintain high standards while complying with the Privacy Act and the Human Rights Act.”

Read more:

What landlords can’t ask tenants 

Proof rent can be paid crucial 

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