Privacy Commissioner to crack down on landlords breaching privacy of tenants

The Privacy Commissioner has announced his intention to crackdown on landlords breaching the privacy of their tenants by collecting, retaining and disclosing personal information. 

Commissioner John Edwards said his office had been made aware that some property management agencies and landlords are asking for incredibly detailed information from prospective tenants as part of their selection process.

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Others are using public forums to compile lists of 'bad tenants', according to a statement issued by the Commissioner on Wednesday.

"I am concerned about some of the practices we are seeing, particularly during a time when pressure on tenants is high," Edwards said.

The Commissioner noted that prospective tenants are becoming increasingly vulnerable to requests for personal information that go far beyond the necessary details required for assessing their suitability. This is due to the high demand for rental accommodation nationwide, leading to significant competition for a reduced number of available properties. 

Questions regarding pet ownership and proof of identity are valid, however seeking information regarding an individual's nationality, gender or marital status is almost never justifiable, the Commissioner said. Requesting a detailed banking history is also unacceptable.

Edwards said landlords are entitled to collect personal information where it is necessary for their "lawful purpose of selecting a tenant" and may only disclose that information in a way that is "consistent with that purpose".

Landlords and property managers also need to be transparent about why they are collecting certain information and how it will be used. It is their obligation to ensure that any personal information they hold is stored and handled securely.

Tenant 'blacklists' can unfairly keep some people out of the market because of inaccuracies.

"Landlords are able to collect information to assess whether a tenant can pay rent, however, collecting their bank statements to gauge how they spend their money is unfair and unreasonably intrusive. Landlords should only collect the minimum amount of personal information necessary to make that decision," Edwards said. 

"I will be engaging with the sector in coming weeks to ensure that landlords and property managers understand their Privacy Act obligations and are acting in accordance with them. I would also like to hear from tenants who have concerns around the use of their personal information."