Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Can landlords ask if tenants are vaccinated?

The Privacy Commissioner’s new guidelines on the rental sector issued this month sparked questions about whether landlords or property managers can demand to know if tenants are vaccinated.

What’s legal, what’s right, what’s not, at what point in negotiations over a rental property is the information asked for, why is the information being sought, how will it be used and how should it be stored: those are some of the central issues governing this issue.

People asked about vaccinations after commissioner John Edwards issued new guidelines which said landlords couldn’t ask for people’s date of birth on the initial application.

Landlords can ask for a date of birth only once people were short-listed for a flat or house and further questions were being addressed, the office clarified.

Vaccination status was one aspect Herald readers wanted to know about after Edwards’ list of questions that can and can’t be asked by landlords as well as tenants.

So the Herald went back to the commissioner’s office to ask about what one reader called “the topic de jour”.

The office somewhat deflected the question to another arm of the state.

“Because the Covid-19 landscape is constantly changing, we recommend landlords and tenants check the Tenancy Services website and the Unite Against Covid-19 website for the Government’s latest advice,” a commission office spokesperson said.

Then, it got more specific, saying it all depended on why the landlord wanted to know about the jab.

“Under the Privacy Act, agencies or landlords must only collect personal information if it is necessary for a lawful purpose connected to their functions,” it said.

“This means landlords must only collect information that is necessary for the purposes of renting their property. If a landlord wants to ask tenants if they have been vaccinated for Covid-19, they must be able to demonstrate that they have a legitimate need to know this information,” the Privacy Commissioner’s office said.

Sharon Cullwick, NZ Property Investors Federation executive officer, was resolute about the situation.

“You absolutely cannot ask a tenant for their vaccination status. This is a breach of the tenants’ privacy,” Cullwick said today.

A private rental provider or property manager can, however, do things to protect themselves and their health from Covid, though she stressed.

“They should, for example, wear a mask and wash their hands before and after entering the property. Avoid entering the property if someone has been sick with Covid-19 in the previous two weeks.

“You may also ask the tenants to wait outside when you are doing a house inspection and you could politely ask the tenants to wear a mask as well. The tenant does not need to oblige with these requests, though,” Cullwick said.

The Real Estate Authority said landlords or managers could ask about a tenant’s vaccination status but the answer didn’t have to be supplied.

“Our understanding is that people can be asked about their vaccination status if there is a proper reason for doing so.

“However, those who are asked are not obliged to share that information as it is their personal information and privacy principles apply. The Ministry of Health, Worksafe, and Business.govt.nz websites have further guidance on this,” an authority spokesperson said.

Yesterday, the Auckland Property Investors Association held a 45-minute web session about Covid and tenancies.

Sarina Gibbon, the association’s general manager, hosted that.

The virus, Government restrictions and the vaccine rollout created day-to-day challenges for the rental sector, the association said.

It has not been business-as-usual for some time and it likely won’t be for a good while.

Aspects of tenancy management such as vetting, inspection, damages, rent arrears that are affected by Covid and best practice suggestions were covered.

A high-level overview of Covid tenancy rules and how best to handle issues to do with privacy and sensitive personal information, as well as the best ways to support tenants and maintain good tenancy relationships during these trying times were all on the agenda.

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