On Saturday Renters United made available a form to make a request under the Privacy Act to find out if they were in the TINZ tenant database, request a copy of their information and request the removal of information gathered without their consent.
Yesterday some of those requesters received an email from TINZ asking them to go to the TINZ website and complete a complex form that includes uploading copies of the person’s photo ID or paying them a fee for access to their information. You can see a copy of the email from TINZ below ↓.
Having investigated the interpretation that TINZ has given to that request, we believe that they are not correctly interpreting renters rights under the Privacy Act.
We have written to TINZ on behalf of the 600+ renters who have requested their information to insist that they act in accordance with the Privacy Act.
We will continue to pursue this matter with them in the mean time we recommend renters do not follow their advice to supply them with additional personal information or pay them any money.
Here, in full, is our response to TINZ:
Thank you for your email to renters making personal access requests under the Privacy Act with assistance from Renters United. A number of renters have shared their response with us. Our interpretation of the Privacy Act 1993 (‘the Act’) differs from yours in some significant ways.
Nothing under the Privacy Act 1993 permits agencies to direct a particular form of information access request. Your direction to requesters to go through the TINZ website to request their personal information therefore does not remove your obligations to reply under the Act to make a decision on the access request and provide the necessary information as soon as reasonably practicable and in any case not later than 20 days.
We appreciate your obligations under s 45 of the Act to ensure that the requesters are making access requests for their own information. However, this obligation will be met by their sending of an email from their own address (many of which you will hold on file). We note s 24 of the Electronic Transactions Act 2002.
Your information request gateway contains an option whereby applicants can request their details “instantly” with less stringent identity verification requirements (they do not need to upload photo ID) and by paying $17.00 plus GST. This appears to breach the Act in two ways. First, the functionality permitting automatic searches of the database would appear to make the charge for urgent access unreasonable. Second, TINZ’s ability to automatically search the database would appear to render the provision of the necessary information in “up to five days” slower than is reasonably practicable.
We think that you are required to honour the earlier access requests regardless of whether the requesters subsequently choose to use your portal. We also recommend that you reconsider the access charges and two speed access.
We note your explanation of TINZ’s safeguards and steps towards transparency. We acknowledge that some aspects of the tenant rating systems are better than they might be; such as the disabling of comments. Regardless of the words used, the meaning of “below average” as the worst possible rating will be clear to landlords and property managers. One of two outcomes is likely: Either the prospective tenant will be rejected outright or the property manager will call the previous landlord or property manager for an off-the-record reference check.
We think that TINZ’s tenant ratings breach the Privacy Act 1993 in a number of important ways. No attempt is made to collect the information from the tenant (or verify its accuracy). When disclosing the tenant ratings, no reasonable steps are taken to verify the accuracy or currency of the information. By the very nature of the tenant ratings, this is likely to lead to reasonably foreseeable harm to the tenant (by missing out on a tenancy along with potential distress from an unfair rating). The alerts when a tenant applies to another property are also problematic from a privacy perspective.
While the suggestion of letting a tenant know when they are being rated goes part of the way to addressing these issues, we think this is insufficient. The onus to ensure that you collect information fairly and take reasonable steps to confirm accuracy before use or disclosure is on TINZ.
We think therefore that TINZ is breaching the Act. The easiest way to remedy the breaches would be to reform your information access portal and discontinue all tenant rating or tenant alert functionality on your website. We are happy to speak or meet with you to discuss ways to remedy these breaches. If you wish, we could also involve the Office of the Privacy Commissioner in these discussions.
Email from TINZ to requesters
This is a copy of the email sent to people making their request.
Thank you for your application. To retrieve your TINZ file we need some proof of identification from you to cover security and privacy concerns.
We have a dedicated and secure online portal for this: Please click here for the correct enquiry form.
TINZ offers transparency where there was none. Tenants can find out what, if any, Tenant Ratings, 14 Day Notices, and Court Orders a previous property manager has lodged online and TINZ encourages property managers to be upfront with tenants regarding their use of TINZ. Without TINZ the tenant checking option for property managers is to phone previous property managers to have a conversation regarding previous tenancies. This conversation is neither transparent for the tenant nor recorded with no responsibility towards the accuracy of information given about tenants.
All TINZ registered users are liable for their actions on the website and this transparency brings a good level of responsibility. Tenant Ratings on TINZ are shown as a simple tick-box survey. There is no comment allowable as this can be open for abuse.
The Tenant Rating survey addresses Rent payment timeliness, Tidiness and Consideration of neighbours. Tick-box options are “Excellent”, “Good”, “Average”, “Below Average”, and “Not Applicable”. “Below Average” is the worst tick-box option. Considering this we feel TINZ is being done a disservice by only being labelled a “bad tenant database” by others.
Just like you, we would prefer to focus on the positive side of life as we know most tenants are awesome just as most landlords are. TINZ is a great to help to great tenants and a great promoter of good tenants.
TINZ has also been working hard to create a dedicated website to help tenants here www.tenant.nz
One great idea for which we thank Renters United, is the ability to know whenever you are checked through TINZ or whenever a lodgement is put on TINZ. This is something our programmers will work on. If you have ideas or thoughts on what else would be helpful for a national website for tenants, we would love to work with you to make it happen. Please email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Tenancy Information New Zealand Ltd
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