One question Harry Albert Lettings & Estates is hearing regularly from landlords since the end of May is about their Data Protection obligations and how GDPR will affect them and how they process information about tenants such as passing details on to third-parties now that the General Data Protection Regulations have become the law.
A lot of landlords are worried that GDPR makes the day to day management of their business too restrictive, what with granular consents and privacy policies… The good news in, the Information Commissioner’s Office has issued guidance for landlords demonstrating that the new legislation is not as restrictive as some think it is however, it is important your paperwork is in order and Harry Albert Lettings & Estates has some tips to help you do this.
1. Get on top of tenant referencing, even if you use an agent
Landlords are often kept in the dark about a lot of the management process of their properties, this is how many landlords like it; a mostly hands-off investment bringing in a regular income. However, it is more important now than ever that landlords take more responsibility of the paperwork aspect of their property.
The benefit of this is that it enables you to ensure your agents are adequately referencing your tenants. A lot of dodgy agents will say “We can’t share this with you due to data protection,” and this is a lie. They must tell the tenants and those who they seek a reference from (employer, landlord, etc) that this information may be shared with you or the tenant at the same time they ask for the reference. Those who refuse to allow the agent to share the reference should be considered to have failed the reference until such time the tenant can provide suitable references.
Landlords often worry, and rightfully so, about sharing personal information including forwarding addresses to creditors the tenant may owe money to, including utility suppliers, council tax and debt recovery specialists. It isn’t uncommon for utility suppliers to try and hold landlords liable for their tenants’ debts.
The problem is, with data protection, a lot of people err on the side of caution when sharing their tenants’ information with relevant organisations but they needn’t. The Data Protection Act wasn’t and GDPR hasn’t been passed so tenants can avoid paying their bills.
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 but you will fall under creditors anyway.
3. Ignore Tenant Blacklists and DO NOT CONTRIBUTE to them
The whole idea of a bad tenant register is a minefield with Data Protection and GDPR. Whilst Harry Albert Lettings & Estates and us here at Leicester Property Insight appreciate and understand fully and also support a register of this description, in the eyes of GDPR, it isn’t viable. Sure, you could have tenants consent to their details being shared with the register but under GDPR, they have the right to be forgotten and organisations (including landlords) can only hold data for as long as it is relevant or appropriate to do so. Once the tenant moves out, you have six years to make any claims against them in civil court if there is any reason to do so and beyond that, there would be very few reasons to continue to hold tenant data. Likewise, the information you hold whether positive or negative will be coming from yourself or your agent, both of whom are less than impartial.
There is the possibility that good tenants could fall foul of a malicious landlord with a grudge or otherwise, the tenant may have the same or similar name as another bad tenant on the register and therefore unjustly suffering as a result.
Whilst it’s a great idea to be able to warn other landlords about bad tenants, surely it would also only be fair for there to be a register to name and shame bad landlords too?
So, can landlords tell other landlords when a tenant has failed to pay them? It probably wouldn’t be wise. This is what the ICO have to say about landlords sharing a list of tenants in rent 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.
4. Register with the Information Commissioner’s Office
You’re probably wondering by now who the ICO are. They’re the governing body responsible for enforcing GDPR and other data protection legislation applicable to the UK. It costs £40 to register (at the time of writing, just a couple of weeks ago it was £35) and you’ll be taken through a form which will ask various questions about how you process data. It’s important you fill this in correctly otherwise you could be on the receiving end of a fine which is up to 20million Euro or 4% of annual turnover, whichever is higher. It’s unlikely a landlord will experience the full arm of the law in that respect but it doesn’t bear thinking about… £40 a year will never amount to the amount you may be liable for paying in fines should you fall foul of the legislation.
GDPR doesn’t have to be complicated. It certainly isn’t the end of the world as some GDPR “specialists” and “experts” will have you believe. For less than £70, you could have all the documents you need to be GDPR compliant from Landlord Gold. Alternatively, if you’d rather just avoid the headache entirely, Harry Albert Lettings & Estates are always on hand to take over the full management of your property. They have a really simple fee structure too. You pay just £100 to get set up and £99 on top if you need a tenant. Then, it’s £99 to find new tenants each time your property becomes vacant. That’s it. No renewal fees, no silly inspection fees, no outrageous hidden expenses. They can help you earn an income during void periods and if you decide to sell, they won’t charge you any fees to sell your property. You can’t say fairer than that!