Reference riddle

Veronika asks:
(updated on Monday, March 21st 2011)

Is a property manager allowed to give references about an ex-tenants rental history? Even if it isn't good (ie not paying rent on time, breaches, vacating without giving appropriate notice etc)? Or is the refusal to put it in writing due to privacy laws? If that's the case can one apply to the privacy commissioner to have this information released? Can an agent deny the information as to what date the tenant move to new premises? Can the agent forward emails from owner to agent on to the tenant without the consent of the owner?

Our Experts Answer:

This is a series of privacy related issues.  Firstly, landlords depend on accurate references when considering applications.  If a tenancy applicant authorises a property manager to query a previous landlord or property manager, then it must be expected that tenancy-related questions will be asked and answered. 

The purpose of any reference checking is to establish an applicant’s track record, and anything short of honesty on the part of a referee would make the process futile.  Some landlords will not give written references but will happily answer verbal questions.  This is generally because written references are often followed up by telephone calls with specific questions to be answered.   

Secondly, if a tenancy dispute goes to a Tenancy Tribunal hearing the results of the hearing are on public record.   In fact, they are published online at   Thirdly, whether an agent can forward an owner’s e-mail to a tenant depends on the type of information that is in the owner’s e-mail and on the agent’s instructions. 

Many owners hire an agent because they don’t want to be involved in communications with tenants.  I suggest you look at all the facts in this situation and judge for yourself whether the agent has overstepped the mark.   

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