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Rent week
Image: Archi Banal

BusinessSeptember 28, 2022

PSA: Your landlord can’t ask to see your bank statements 

Rent week
Image: Archi Banal

Other things off limits: your relationship status, employment details and whether or not you buy avocado on toast on the reg.

Do you have pets? Will you mow the lawns? How many keys do you need? And can you pay a two-week bond, and two weeks’ worth of rent, upfront? These are some of the things landlords are allowed to ask you when you’re applying to rent a flat.

The list of things landlords aren’t allowed to ask you is much longer. In no particular order, it includes your race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, relationship status, disabilities, age, political views and your employment status.

Tenants should certainly not be providing copies of their bank statements to win the right to rent an affordable home in Aotearoa.

This isn’t just me saying this – it’s the Privacy Act, which states that a landlord or property manager cannot ask a prospective tenant for information protected under the Human Rights Act. “You should think about whether you really need the information before you ask for it,” is how the Privacy Commissioner officially advises landlords to approach things. 

The reason is obvious, but worth restating: this information could be used to discriminate during the flat letting process. According to the Privacy Commissioner, prospective tenants shouldn’t be disadvantaged for “refusing to provide information the landlord shouldn’t be asking for in the first place”.

But that isn’t stopping some landlords for requesting all of these things – and much more. In a new survey released this week (one that dovetails nicely into The Spinoff’s Rent Week coverage), industry watchdog Consumer NZ found some landlords and property managers are asking renters to provide far more personal information than they’re allowed to.

During a mystery shopper exercise conducted while posing as a prospective tenant, Consumer NZ uncovered some alarming statistics, including 6% of surveyed rental agencies requesting bank statements. Another 10% encouraged prospective tenants to supply extra information with a cover letter and rental CV, including age bracket, gender, and relationship and employment status.

One said “the more information you provide [about yourself] the better your chances” while another said any extra information could “make your application stand out from the others”. When asked about the safety and security of that information, 14% of those surveyed became “noticeably disinterested”.

During the study, Consumer NZ met one 25-year-old Christchurch resident who said her landlord asked her for “really weird” details, including how long she’d had her phone number. The landlord then requested her boss’s phone number, as well as her bank statement and salary information.

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy says the findings are a sign the rental market remains buoyant and there’s plenty of competition among renters – especially in major centres. In July, the average rental price in Auckland was $590 per week, up $10 on the same period in 2021, reports In Wellington, rental prices are up 9.4%, and Christchurch is up 9.5%.

“The rental market remains tough in many areas of the country, and many prospective tenants are offering up more information than required just to get a shot at being considered for a property,” says Duffy. Renters are under pressure to share personal information as a way to win over potential landlords or agents. “The way we see it, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”

Duffy encourages renters to know their rights, and to check the Privacy Act Guidance for Tenants to learn more. “It’s concerning that some renters are expected and encouraged to give up sensitive private information, but it also raises questions about what happens to this information,” he says. “Property managers could be discriminating against some applicants, based on the information they provide.”

While these requests could breach the Privacy Act, Duffy says it’s up to renters to know their rights around what information landlords are allowed to ask for. “Ultimately it is up to the applicant how much information they share,” he says.

Rent Week 2022 runs from September 27 to October 2. Read the best of our renting coverage here.

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