Privacy Commissioner launches probe into landlords breaching prospective tenants' privacy

The Privacy Commissioner has launched a probe into the large amounts of information being collected by landlords from prospective tenants as they search for a rental property.

Commissioner John Edwards said last month his office had been made aware that some property management agencies and landlords were asking for incredibly detailed information from prospective tenants as part of their selection process. Others were using public forums to compile lists of 'bad tenants'.

As a result, his office is now looking into the current practices and business models in the rental sector so they can understand it better.

"We are interested in the different perspectives of all participants in the sector to learn more about what personal information about tenants is being collected and why, and how tenants' personal information is being used and disclosed," Edwards says.

The meetings with stakeholder representatives will help inform Edwards' office of the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information in the rental sector and of compliance issues under the Privacy Act.

Last month when Edwards announced his intention to crack down on landlords breaching tenants' privacy, he said that prospective renters 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. 

Privacy Commissioner launches probe into landlords breaching prospective tenants' privacy
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Questions regarding pet ownership and proof of identity are valid, but seeking information about a person's nationality, gender, or marital status is rarely justifiable, he 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.

Tenants who have concerns about the use of their personal information are asked to contact