What questions you can and can’t ask a prospective tenant

As a landlord, you want tenants who will care for your property and fulfil their obligations. The pre-tenancy stage is an opportunity to gather information that will help you make your decision. As a general principle, the Privacy Commissioner said “Landlords should only collect the minimum amount of personal information necessary to make that decision.”  For instance, if a credit report shows that an applicant is creditworthy, there’s no need to collect their bank statements. Also The Human Rights Act prevents a landlord from discriminating against a tenant based on their age, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, race, employment status, marital status or beliefs. Since you can’t use this information to choose a tenant, it’s not necessary to collect it at all.

Some property managers ask to see the prospect’s bank statement before making a decision as to who to let out the property to.

However, prospect tenants have a right to refuse to show you.

Recently, the Privacy Commissioner released a guideline as what personal information landlords can request from a prospective tenant.

To make it easier to read, the Privacy Commissioner’s guidelines is divided into 3 segments:

Questions almost always justified for a landlord/property manager to ask, Questions that are sometimes justified for a landlord/property manager to ask, and Questions that are almost never justified for a landlord/property manager to ask.

The questions you can always ask prospective tenants relate to:

  • Name and proof of identity
  • Contact information (so you can reach the prospect)
  • Name and contact information for current landlord (so you can call the current landlord and ask for a reference)
  • One or two previous landlords as references
  • Expected length of tenancy applied for
  • Whether the applicant has ever been evicted
  • Pet ownership
  • Whether the applicant must give notice at their current accommodation (so the landlord has an idea of when the prospect tenant can move)
  • Authorisation to perform a criminal record check
  • Number of occupants who will live in the unit

If you need more information to justify whether the prospect can pay the rent, you can ask

  • Personal references – where landlord references aren’t available
  • Current income verification (e.g. pay slips, redacted bank statements) – where satisfactory references aren’t available
  • Authorisation to collect a credit report – where satisfactory references aren’t available

However, any specific questions relating to the following are almost never justified to be asked to a prospective tenant during the pre-tenancy stage:

  • Broad consent to collect personal information from “other sources”
  • Credit card information
  • Nationality, ethnicity, origin or citizenship
  • Physical or mental disability or illness
  • Personal beliefs or opinions
  • Marital and family status
  • Gender and sexual orientation
  • Rent paid at previous tenancy
  • Current expenses
  • Proof of insurance

Of course, after you ave selected a tenant, you can ask for further information such as

  • The payment information you’ll need to collect rent (is it going to be auto payment or direct debit)
  • The name and number / address of an emergency contact person
  • Vehicle information, such as vehicle registration number, make and model, if the tenant will be parking on your property
  • Name and number of emergency contacts.
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