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Real Estate Industry

April 21st 2004

HOPE FOR BLACKLIST TENANTS

Agents and landlords placed on notice to behave.


After years of maltreatment, thousands of tenants placed on computer blacklists by estate agents and landlords may soon receive a fair go.

One of the most notorious of the blacklist companies, Tenancy Information Centre Australasia (TICA), has been found to have breached federal privacy laws.

The Queensland Tenants Union has successfully mounted a case before Privacy Commissioner Malcolm Crompton who found 13 breaches of the Privacy Act by TICA. The Union acted for people who had been listed incorrectly or for trivial or vindictive matters.

Breaches included overcharging tenants to access their files, failing to take reasonable steps to ensure data was accurate, out-of-date information and inaccurate files. The Privacy Commissioner sampled 50 records in TICA's database and found dozens of mistakes. He ordered the company to correct its files and conduct regular audits.

The outcome will force agents, landlords and database operators to review how they compile and use these blacklists. The Privacy Commissioner has ordered new restrictions: now tenants must be informed of their listing and there are time limits on any listing.

The Jenman web site carried an article in December detailing the operation - and abuses - of the computer blacklist system. Tenants accused of causing damage to premises or failure to pay rent can be listed on any one of several computer databases to which landlords and managing agents subscribe to weed out undesirable tenants.

There are no clear guidelines for listing bad tenants and renters have no rights to challenge their listing. It's estimated that hundreds of thousands of people around Australia are blacklisted.

There is now clear evidence that the system is abused, with rent-paying families often listed for petty or malicious reasons. Once listed, tenants have little chance of finding homes to rent. Worse, many tenants are unaware that they have been blacklisted. This causes them to waste months on fruitless searches for homes, never knowing the real reason why they are constantly being refused accommodation.

Tenants who seek to discover details of their listing are charged $327 an hour by TICA to access information via a 1900 number. The Privacy Commissioner was informed that it took an average of six minutes to access a tenant's record via this method, costing the tenant $33.

Our article in December described cases where intellectually disabled people were listed through prejudice rather than any history of bad tenancy behaviour. People with physical disabilities have also ended up on the databases. So have women and teenagers escaping domestic violence.

Community workers and social service groups report it is also common for people to be listed because of their ethnic origin.

Further action on the blacklists is likely. A national working party of state government attorneys-general is planning to regulate the blacklists.

It's about time.


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Further reading THE BLACKLIST SHAME
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