A multi-headed beast was set loose on the rental market a few years ago, bringing yet more angst to Australia's already stressed-out renter population.
The monster, a pack of third-party rental application platforms we call RentTech, is indiscriminate in its demands, forcing renters young and old to surrender mounds of personal information, all for the 'privilege' of applying for a place to live.
These days it isn't just price gouging that consumers need to watch out for: 'data gouging' is the newest way businesses are taking advantage of a captive market.
Add in the fact that places to rent are in desperately short supply and barely affordable across much of Australia, and you have a truly Shonky development.
Worse still, rental platforms such as Ignite, 2Apply, Snug and others can use your personal information for purposes that go well beyond securing a tenancy, such as refining their business model to make more money. Sadly, regulations are only beginning to catch up.
'Unreasonable privacy and digital security risks'
A CHOICE report released in April this year revealed that:
- 41% of renters in Australia had been pressured by their agent or landlord to use a RentTech platform
- 60% were uncomfortable with the amount and type of information collected
- 29% decided not to apply for a rental because they didn't trust the platform.
"The sheer volume and type of personal information that renters are being compelled to provide creates unreasonable privacy and digital security risks," says Samantha Floreani, program lead at Digital Rights Watch.
"It's often very unclear who gets access to this information, and how long it will be kept for."
Floreani adds that if the information is being used to automatically rank candidates, "we open up a whole range of other potential harms, including bias and unlawful discrimination".
The tenants' experience
The experience of one RentTech victim, Dylan, shows why these gatekeepers of tenancy must be tamed.
"They wanted, like, our last five jobs, and then references from those jobs. And they wanted not just our current address, or even a previous address, they wanted like the last three. It was just really invasive stuff."
It's a gross overstep and one of the reasons we have stopped looking and applying for placesAngela, renter
Another renter who's had enough of RentTech, Angela, tells us that the platforms she's had to use asked for information including her children's names and photos, a picture of their pet (if they had one), bank statements with balances for every account, and a letter from her employer stating how long she'd worked there.
"Some of these things I'd be happy to hand over if I was shortlisted or as a final step before being approved for a rental," Angela says. "But as part of the basic application stage it's a gross overstep and one of the reasons we have stopped looking and applying for places."
Need for government action
A gross overstep by private real estate businesses looking to harvest data and make their jobs easier at the expense of people looking for a place to live – it's shonky to the core.
"We're hoping to see strong action by our governments on RentTech, because RentTech businesses will continue to exploit the housing crisis for their own gain until robust guardrails are set up," says CHOICE senior campaigns and policy adviser Rafi Alam (pictured above).