Privacy abuse in use of tenant database

October 21, 2010 |

In yesterday’s SMH TICA a tenant database company is taking a tenant check to a new, disturbing level of intrusion.  The service will permit landlords to be notified of when a current tenant is looking for alternate accomodation in New South Wales.

The World Today ran a story on the subject.  The transcript is sobering reading.  If this is permissible it is a walking and talking argument for tightening privacy laws.

ELEANOR HALL: Tenants’ groups say they’re outraged by a service that enables real estate agents to find out when a tenant is considering moving house.

The service is offered by the database company TICA and involves the company sending an email alert to an agent if a tenant submits an application for another property.

The company says it’s merely protecting agents and landlords from being left in the lurch but tenants’ groups are decrying it as an invasion of privacy.

Barbara Miller reports.

BARBARA MILLER: TICA – the Tenancy Information Centre Australasia – has been operating tenancy databases for more than twenty years.

The company says it stands up for the rights of landlords and real estate agents.

TICA’s website states that:

“Tenants do not deserve the right to impose their habits on innocent landlords by claiming that housing is a human right.”

“When an individual rents a property”, the website states, “they should regard themselves as privileged as they were chosen over another applicant. They should not go out of their way to impact financial hardship on landlords and become a property manager’s nightmare.”

With that in mind, the company has devised a new product, Virtual Manager, which allows landlords and agents to see when a tenant applies for another property.

PHILIP NOUNNIS: The service has been designed to cater for that small section of the marketplace that does the dreaded midnight skip and things like that.

BARBARA MILLER: Philip Nounnis is TICA’s managing director.

PHILIP NOUNIS: They break their existing agreement. They apply to another property. They don’t tell the new agent who they were previously renting through and they get approved without the new agent knowing how much money they previously owe.

We have to bear in mind that this program only kicks in once a tenant has filled out a tenancy application. The fact that the tenant has filled out a tenancy application pretty much says that that tenant is prepared to move.

So it is just not when you go down and view a property. It is when you actually fill out an application to be accepted to move into that property.

BARBARA MILLER: But if that application is rejected and the tenant decides to stay in their existing property, they may not be too happy to think that their agent knows that they are thinking of moving.

PHILIP NOUNNIS: No because when they filled out the application, in that application they would have put down who their previous agent was so they could get a reference so that application could be considered.

BARBARA MILLER: So why is the extra product necessary then?

PHILIP NOUNNIS: The extra product is necessary for the people who fabricate their application.

BARBARA MILLER: Tenants’ groups say they’re outraged about the new service.

Chris Martin is a senior policy officer with the Tenants Union of New South Wales.

CHRIS MARTIN: That is a gross invasion of privacy and the potential for that to be abused is really very high.

BARBARA MILLER: Abused in what way?

CHRIS MARTIN: They might decide that they are not going to do the repairs that you were after or they might decide in some other way to make life difficult for you or they might, well, the current agent can cruel your application. So they could use the contact details, get in touch with the agent who searched you and cruel your application.

BARBARA MILLER: When you say cruel your application you mean say oh this isn’t a good tenant. Don’t take them on.

CHRIS MARTIN: Yes, yes, exactly. Try to spoil your application if they actually don’t want you moving out at all.

BARBARA MILLER: But Philip Nounnis from TICA says the Tenants Union is barking up the wrong tree.

PHILIP NOUNNIS: Barbara, this is just another thing for the Tenants Union to complain about. What the Tenants Union should be doing is going out there with an education process for tenants, explaining to tenants the benefits of doing the right thing, paying the rent on time rather than trying to jump up and down and complain about databases and certainly complain about TICA.

BARBARA MILLER: Several states and territories have recently enacted or are about to enact legislation on the use of tenancy databases.

Tenants groups say they hope by the middle of next year database regulation will be in place across the country.

ELEANOR HALL: Barbara Miller reporting.

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