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Privacy Practices Put To The Test

David Faulkner says few will complain about the new guidelines because they provide much-needed education around privacy issues and professionalism.

By: David Faulkner

1 December 2022

Consumer NZ recently released a report on the property management industry. The report was released after a mystery shop survey was undertaken on many property management companies throughout New Zealand. Overall, 71 calls were made to 32 agencies across five regions.

Its purpose was to assess the industry’s adherence to the newly implemented Privacy Guidelines, which had been introduced by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) governing how landlords collect the personal information of prospective tenants, and how that information is used and stored.

In recent years there have been stories emerging in the media of “tenant blacklists” on Facebook as well as the now infamous “KFC test” where a property manager admitted collecting bank statements and observing the poor spending habits of tenants. Both scenarios are breaches of the Privacy Act.

In early 2021, the OPC had heard enough. They decided to investigate the practices of the property management industry, and new guidelines were introduced. The OPC was given the power to monitor and enforce compliance. The new guidelines were introduced in November 2021, with an extensive education campaign.

LACK OF UNDERSTANDING

The new guidelines have introduced a two-stage process for tenant applications, increasing the workload and tenant selection time frame. Few in the industry will complain about the guidelines; they provide much-needed education around privacy issues and professionalism, and obviously protect
tenants’ privacy.

Before the guidelines were introduced it would be common to see potential privacy breaches, although my belief over why this was happening was not through malice but more through a lack of understanding. Some platforms agencies used for tenants to apply were simply asking too much information from the outset.

The opinion is that the industry could and should be doing a lot better. I would not disagree with this. However, as an advocate for the property management
industry I will say that we have had to deal with multiple changes in legislation in recent years. These guidelines were just another level of compliance that the industry had to learn and adopt.

The report held the view that “property managers displayed a qualitative shift in attitude when tenants attempted to assert their right”. According to Consumer NZ, 24 per cent of agents became disinterested in the shopper when they requested information about their privacy, and 15 per cent commented about the property being in high demand. Our industry needs to do better here. In a recent training session held within our company we used this report to emphasise the importance of being respectful and professional. However, on the positive side of the report, it was good to hear that our industry displayed excellent general knowledge of the guidelines.

‘The opinion is that the industry could and should be doing a lot better’

GLASS HALF FULL

Some may view the report as being written in a critical nature of how the industry operates; I like to view the glass as half full. The industry understands the importance of the guidelines. The report is a timely reminder that more work is required to ensure we are working at a high level of compliance.

The report identified valuable recommendations:

• regulating the property management industry includes setting standards and expectations of appropriate behaviour
• where appropriate, the Commerce Commission should investigate agencies when there are allegations of privacy breaches
• a joint enforcement strategy in collaboration with the OPC and the Commerce Commission.

The report fails to allude to what happens to landlords who manage their own property. The Privacy Guidelines apply to the industry, and many private landlords will be oblivious to the requirements of the OPC. They may discriminate without realising they are doing so.

It is beneficial to review the industry and hold it to account, but more could and should be done with the 50 per cent of the market that chooses not to use a property manager.

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