A new compliance monitoring programme to ensure property managers and agencies are acting in accordance with the Privacy Act has been launched by the Privacy Commissioner.
Through the programme, the commissioner will carry out regular checks of rental sector agencies, as well as an annual survey to audit application forms, contract forms, and privacy policies of letting agencies, property managers, and third-party service providers.
Included in the programme is an anonymous "tipline" for tenants and prospective tenants to dob-in landlords over concerns about the handling of their personal information.
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The Auckland Property Investors Association (APIA) intends to make enquiries into the mechanisms of the anonymous tip line for tenants.
“We want to make sure this is a system of integrity with appropriate controls in place so that it is only dealing with genuine privacy complaints rather than adding superfluous compliance burden on landlords,” APIA president Kirstin Sutherland (pictured) says.
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards says tenants and prospective tenants need to have confidence in the way their personal information has been collected, used, stored, and disclosed by their landlord or property manager.
“As we move into this compliance phase, rental sector agencies must be aware of their obligations and responsibilities. There are now no excuses for over-collection and unauthorised use of personal information and there will be consequences for non-compliance,” says Edwards.
Consequences for non-compliance include:
- Warning letters
- Access directions
- Compliance notices
- Referral to the Human Rights Review Tribunal
- Public interest inquiry
- Public naming of agency
The penalty for failure to comply with a Compliance Notice is a fine of up to $10,000.
Alongside the new compliance monitoring programme, the Privacy Commissioner has launched new guidance for tenants, landlords, and others in the rental accommodation sector.
“We have developed this guidance to clarify the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords under the Privacy Act. The guidance spells out what information may be requested at every stage of the rental process," Edwards says.
"We want to make it easy for landlords and property managers to know what they should and shouldn’t collect, and for prospective tenants to understand what they can and can’t be asked for,” says Edwards.
Sutherland says the release of guidance offers the sector some much-needed certainty and goes a long way to help build trust between landlords and tenants.
She says the association is particularly encouraged by its flexible and principle-based approach. “This is a far cry from the usual heavy-handedness landlords have come to expect from government agencies.”
The guidance sets out the information landlords can and can’t ask tenants in most cases while leaving ample scope for further inquiries to be made in appropriate circumstances.
“To me, this is an acknowledgement that renting is not a cookie-cutter process. As long as landlords operate within the 13 principles under the Privacy Act, they should be able to dial-up and dial-down their enquiries in a way that supports the objectives of their rental business.”
Sutherland considers the monitoring framework released alongside the guidance as the Privacy Commissioner putting the sector on notice.
“Compliance is not the most thrilling aspect of landlording. Oversight is necessary if we want people to have confidence in the system. We cannot pretend that there are no problematic behaviours that subject tenants to the indignity of information overshare. While I don’t believe those practices to be common, they certainly cast the entire sector in a bad light.
"Like many tenants, our members are frustrated by those landlords who do not treat their rentals as businesses and tenants as customers.”
“At the very least,” says Sutherland, “this framework clearly sets out what we can expect from the Privacy Commissioner in terms of how it will exercise its powers.”
She is confident the guidance and its future iterations will keep pace with the evolution of renting in New Zealand.
Privacy: Rental sector compliance strategy
Privacy: Landlord fact sheet What information landlords can collect from tenants.
Privacy: Landords guidance document