The things landlords can and can't ask you

Next time you're looking at a rental and the property manager asks to see a bank statement, feel free to decline.

It's one of several questions that are "almost never justified", according to new guidelines on what personal information landlords can request from prospective tenants issued by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC).

The guidelines, colour-coded for easy reference, come in response to reports landlords were asking to see tenants' bank statements.

"I see a lot of people who are low socio-economic and their bank statements literally will read, 'KFC, McDonald's, the dairy, KFC, McDonald's, court fine', trucks that they buy, goods that they can't afford," a property manager told a select committee hearing last year.

NZ First MP Darroch Ball, who was at the hearing, called it a "gross invasion of privacy" - and the OPC agrees.

"It may be lawful for landlords to collect information to assess whether a tenant can pay rent, however, collecting their bank statements to determine their money management style may be unfair or unreasonably intrusive," said Privacy Commissioner John Edwards.

"Landlords should only collect the minimum amount of personal information necessary to make that decision."

So what can landlords and property managers ask for? There is a limited amount the OPC deems "always justified".

  • Name and proof of identity
  • Contact information
  • Name and contact information for current landlord
  • One or two previous landlords as references
  • Expected length of tenancy applied for
  • Whether the applicant has ever been evicted
  • Pet ownership
  • Whether the applicant must give notice at their current accommodation
  • Authorisation to perform a criminal record check
  • Number of occupants who will live in the unit

The following queries are "sometimes justified", according to the OPC.

  • Personal references - where landlord references aren't available
  • Current income verification (e.g. pay slips, redacted bank statements) - where satisfactory references aren't available
  • Authorisation to collect a credit report - where satisfactory references aren't available
  • Whether the prospective tenant is a smoker - if it's a non-smoking property
  • Reasons for leaving previous tenancy
  • And "almost never justified" queries include the below.

Broad consent to collect personal information from "other sources"

  • Driver licence number
  • Credit card information
  • Nationality, ethnicity, origin or citizenship
  • Physical or mental disability or illness
  • Personal beliefs or opinions
  • Marital and family status
  • Gender and sexual orientation
  • Rent paid at previous tenancy
  • Sports and hobbies
  • Current expenses
  • Conflicts with previous neighbour tenants or building managers
  • Proof of insurance
  • Languages spoken
  • Details about current accommodation
  • Banking history
  • Employment history
  • Age
  • Employment status

The OPC says landlords and property managers should collect "the minimum amount of personal information necessary" to decide their next tenant.

"For instance, if a credit report shows that an applicant is creditworthy, there's no need to collect their bank statements."

What's allowed and what isn't.
What's allowed and what isn't. Photo credit: OPC

Once you've been chosen as the property's next tenant, the landlord or property is entitled to ask for a bit more information, including the below.

  • Payment information you'll need to collect rent
  • Name and number/address of an emergency contact person
  • Vehicle information, such as vehicle registration number, make and model, if the tenant will be parking on your property
  • Name and number of emergency contacts

"These guidelines are designed to help landlords make a reasonable decision about what personal information to collect from prospective tenants," said Edwards.

Newshub has contacted the NZ Property Investors' Federation and the Tenants Protection Association for their views on the new guidelines, and the OPC on how they've changed.