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Is there an imbalance of power in NZ’s rental market?

By Katrina Green

A few months ago I wrote a piece regarding the mystery shopping the Office of the Privacy Commission (OPC) were conducting in the rental property sector to ensure landlords and property managers were complying with the new privacy laws.

The results are now in and they have commented that there is an imbalance of power in the market, with some agencies asking tenants to share more personal information than necessary when applying for rental properties.

A little bit of background for those of you who are not aware.  The OPC made several changes to the law in relation to what questions we are able to ask potential tenants during the application process, and at what stage we are allowed to ask it.  Essentially, it is not until we have ‘preferred applicants’ that we are permitted to ask for any personal information.

It is quite normal, particularly in a tight market, for tenants to ask us how they can put their best foot forward so to speak, and until the law change we could quite openly ask them to provide as much information about themselves as they thought was relevant, going with the more is better approach, and sometimes even suggesting a cover letter of introduction is a great way of introducing themselves to us for us to present to the landlord.

We have spoken to legislation experts and in fact had a template for handing out to tenants at viewings which does suggest some ways they can assist themselves in the property approved with someone at the OPC, but after reading the report, I am pondering whether we can in fact actually even suggest this.

I am sure there are differing opinions about this depending on what side of the fence you are on, and completely agree with the importance of a tenants privacy. I am however the type of person who believes in transparency and being upfront, and so it is difficult not being able to offer advice to possible tenants to help them through the process without potentially getting into trouble.  

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