Concerns new guidelines for landlords won't protect tenants

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards. Photo: Supplied / Office of the Privacy Commissioner

An advocacy group for tenants is concerned over whether new guidelines from the privacy commissioner will actually protect renters.

The guidelines say landlords can only ask for a credit report and proof of income once a preferred tenant has been selected.

They cannot ask for current expenses or rent paid previously, employment history, or nationality.

But the Citizens Advice Bureau said it remained to be seen whether the new guidelines would actually make a difference for tenants.

The Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards, said there had been robust discussion for the revised version after the first lot of guidelines was met with backlash from landlords and property managers.

"It's been pretty positive, albeit slightly belated engagement with the industry," he said.

The Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) chief executive, Bindi Norwell, said previously, landlords were banned from questions about age which contradicted responsibilities to find out whether tenants were over 18 years old under the Residential Tenancy Act.

She said it was good that there was further consultation.

"Just making sure that they're fit for purpose and they work for the industry, the original ones made it very clear that they weren't," she said.

"They've taken that on board and they've made changes so I think they're much better now."

Manager of the Citizen's Advice Bureau Wellington Central branch, Audrey Fell-Smith, said renters could miss out on homes because other people provided more information that they were not legally obliged to give.

"I think the guidelines are good but whether they are actually enforceable or whether they will actually change the current climate amongst property managers and landlords - I don't know, time will tell," she said.

She had also heard of landlords asking for photographs of the renters to get around the nationality question.

"They ask the question, 'Should I give this information?' and others ... say 'Look, if you don't give this information, others will and you'll miss out'," she said.

But Ms Norwell said complaints could be made.

"I think the first point is making sure that people are clear with what they can and can't do and then actually making sure that people are aware that if they're not comfortable and they feel that [rules] haven't been adhered to that there is a recourse and they can do something about it," she said.

Mr Edwards agreed.

"If they [landlords] say that they don't work for them in a particular circumstance and they want to take a risk of a complaint to our office or to one of the other agencies like the Human Rights Commission that is an option that's open to them," he said.

"But we're saying look, if you stick to these guidelines, you're probably pretty safe."

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