A form used by an Aussie real estate agent has exposed the precise details shared about some renters in reference checks. The note was sent to tenants as a warning about what aspects of their tenancy would be provided to future agents at the end of their lease, including whether or not rent was paid on time, what the results of a routine inspection were and what the agent would rate the tenant out of 10.
While many of the questions on the form seem reasonable, one is puzzling. "Maintenance reported during the tenancy?" it asks, implying that a tenant might be judged for having requested certain repairs. The renter who shared the form online was outraged that reporting maintenance would be cited in a reference. "The way renters are treated is absolutely disgraceful," she wrote.
"Notifying the real estate agent of the need to do repairs or damage that has occurred is a contractual obligation that is on the tenant, and it's part of a reasonable regime of property management that you find out about if things go wrong," said Dr Chris Martin, Senior Research Fellow in the University of NSW's City Futures Research Centre. "And this agent is warning people off doing that. They might deny that, but I think it is a strong subtext, and it's not a good look for them."
Is the form legal?
Beyond discouraging people from notifying their agent of a maintenance issue, Martin said disclosing this kind of information to a future agent may break the law. "References from previous agents are a long-standing form of information provision that happens at the beginning of tenancies. But it's not regulated well," he said.
"If the agent is subject to the Australian Privacy Principles under the Federal Privacy Act, and many of them are, then there might be an argument that they've breached privacy," Martin explained. "Because you've provided the information during the tenancy for a particular purpose, that's not for another purpose, and they're giving that away."
Meanwhile, Martin says it's completely acceptable for the Victorian real estate agency behind the reference form to rate tenants out of 10. "Giving a sort of general assessment of how the tenancy went, that's kind of what a reference is about," he said.
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