How does the Data Protection legislation affect landlords and providing information about tenants – for example to their creditors?
There is a very useful page on the Information Commissioners website which sets out the ICOs view of things. From this it is clear that the legislation is not as restrictive as some would have it.
However, you do have to set things up properly in your paperwork. Here are some tips to help you do this.
1. Make it clear to agents that you expect them to give notifications regarding references so they can pass them on to you.
One of the big complaints I hear about agents is that they keep landlords in the dark about the referencing they have done on the tenants (I wrote about this previously here).
This is of course very relevant to landlords as they are the ones who are going to suffer if the referencing has been inadequate. You will also want to know what sort of referencing your agents are doing to check that they are doing their job properly.
The ICO say that agents CAN pass this information on, but they must tell the tenants and the refereee that they will be doing this at the time that they ask for the reference.
Landlords need to make it clear to agents that they expect them to do this. Ideally you want something confirming that the agents will do this in your agency agreement.
2. Include something in tenancy agreements about passing information on to creditors
Landlords often worry about giving out information, such as forwarding addresses, to creditors such as utility companies. For example, if tenants vacate leaving bills unpaid. I wrote about this a couple of years ago here.
However, the Data Protection Act was not passed to make it easier for people to avoid paying their bills!
So you CAN pass on information in these circumstances. But in order to prevent problems you should have a clause in your tenancy agreement about this.
For example we have this in the Landlord Law tenancy agreement as standard.
It is also a good idea to have a clause saying that you will also pass their information on to your debt collectors if they leave owing you money.
3. Be very careful about publishing details about ‘bad tenants’
The whole tenant blacklist thing is a bit of a difficult area.
On the one hand I can certainly understand that landlords will want to be warned and to warn other landlords about known bad tenants.
On the other hand, there is always the possibility that good tenants could be unjustly maligned by malicious landlords with a grudge. Or even innocently suffer just because they had the same or similar name as a known bad tenant.
There are landlord internet services which allow landlords to exchange information about tenants. The best known, Tenant Referencing UK has been around for a long time and have obviously got things right.
This is what the ICO have to say about this, under the question “Can landlords put up a list of tenants who are in arrears?”:
Information about an individual’s debts should only be given out in limited circumstances. It is only justifiable to tell tenants if someone has not paid their rent if this has a direct effect on them, for example, if they become legally responsible to help meet any shortfall in shared maintenance charges.
If you want to be a part of a landlord information exchange organisation, you should disclose to your tenants in advance that you will be doing this.
However, even so you need to be super careful that any information you provide is completely true and accurate.
You will find the ICO guidance here