Applying for a tenancy like applying for a job

Saturday 25 May 2019

Credit checks should only be conducted after someone becomes the preferred candidate for a tenancy - not in the early stage of the application process, according to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

By Miriam Bell

New OPC privacy guidelines for landlords have prompted widespread concern among landlords and property managers about what exactly can be asked when selecting tenants.

Of particular concern for many has been the prohibition on asking for authorisation to obtain a credit report: the guidelines say it is only sometimes justified if satisfactory references aren’t available.

But Privacy Commissioner spokesman Charles Mabbett says the guidelines relate to the pre-tenancy or application stage of the process, not the vetting of the preferred tenant.

They set out what is acceptable for landlords and property managers to ask prospective tenants when they are at the stage of viewing and applying for a property, he says.

“What we are trying to get across to landlords and property managers is that it is about the appropriate process. Think of it as similar to the process of applying for a job.

“If someone is applying for a job they don’t have to give all sorts of personal information up front, instead it is collected further down the line in the process.”

The same should apply to prospective tenants embarking on the application process as OPC believes the collection of more personal information is not necessary in the early stages of that process.

Mabbett says that once a preferred applicant has been selected it is then possible to undertake credit checks, as well as recording proof of identity and checking references.

“It is still necessary to get the consent of the individual in question. But if the individual says no, then that would be big red flag.”

When asked how preferred candidates can be selected from multiple applications if a landlord or property manager is unable to look at a credit record, he says the guidelines allow for plenty of information to be collected early on.

“It’s ‘always justified’ to ask for references from previous landlords and if the applicant has ever been evicted, and to get authorisation to perform a criminal check. That’s quite a lot of critical information which you could base a shortlist on.”

However, the NZ Property Investors Federation is not convinced that the new guidelines are realistic when it comes to tenant selection.

NZPIF executive officer Andrew King says that it is not possible to rely on references because they can be easily forged and/or inaccurate and, as such, are not reliable.

For that reason, authorisation to obtain a credit report should be ‘always justified’, rather than only required when other satisfactory references are not available.

“You do need the information from a credit report to make the decision about who you want to seriously consider for your rental property which is, after all, an expensive asset.

“Not allowing credit checks early on is very unreasonable as landlords need to be confident about the person or people they are entrusting with their property.”

It would be unlikely that a landlord or property manage would run a credit check on every single applicant for a tenancy, King adds.

“Maybe you’d run a credit check on the top three applicants. But you need to have the ability to do it.”

The NZPIF plans to ask the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for a meeting to discuss various points of concern or confusion in the new guidelines.

Read more:

What landlords can’t ask tenants 

Credit check ban unreasonable 

Comments from our readers

On 25 May 2019 at 4:44 pm WellyLL said:
If the office of the privacy commissioner thinks the process should be similar to applying for a job, then they are being either naïve or disingenuous. Most of the job applications I have completed, I have to provide personal information, previous employment, references, AND forms that allow for a credit check and a criminal check AND scanned copies of my ID. All that before I have even been considered for an interview. The interview process takes 4-8 weeks. Far too long for tenancies. I think the commissioner is wrong in respect to asking for credit check information at application stage for tenancies. The commissioner has no authority to stipulate what may be asked in a due diligence process. Doing so is straying from the commissioners role. You will note that most of the 'never asks' are more to do with Human Rights..and not privacy. The commissioner seemly sees his role that broad?...perhaps hoping for Susan Devoy's old job? He will disagree... but all he can actually do, is tell you that you should not collect information that is not necessary for the job at hand, and you should only use the information for the intended purpose and dispose of it once it is no longer required. Other than the commissioner's advice is simply personal should be simply restating the requirements of the Privacy Act 1993.

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