N.B. rights group files complaint over tenant 'blacklist' kept by Saint John landlords
Saint John Apartment Owners Association says it keeps list of about 2,500 bad tenants
A tenants' rights group says Saint John landlords' association is breaking the law by sharing a list of names of people it cautions its members against renting to.
The New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights equates it to an "illegal tenant blacklist," and says it has filed a complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada over the matter.
"According to privacy rights, you as a tenant, if your private information is shared, the landlord has to ask you first," said Jael Duarte, lawyer and advocate with the coalition.
"Having a blacklist of tenants is against the rules."
The coalition's complaint was spurred by comments Saint John Apartment Owners Association president Gerry Webster made in a recent interview with CBC News, in which he said his group's website contains a members-only portal where the names of tenants who've damaged property or failed to pay rent are listed.
"We have a website that if somebody destroys a unit, we list them on there, so other landlords don't get hit with the... same one," Webster said.
Duarte said the coalition is now demanding that the association stop maintaining the list, that it publicly acknowledge it maintained the list "illegally" and publicly apologize for it, and that it make a personal apology to everyone on the list.
Association defends keeping tenant list
In an interview with CBC News Wednesday, Webster said he wasn't aware of the complaint, but he defended the association keeping a list of about 2,500 problematic tenants.
"They can file all the complaints they want," Webster said. "But, you know, if you … got bad credit, it's reported to the credit bureau, and all the people that are at the credit bureau have access to that information.
"We're no different, right? We don't go out and publish it, but we have it for our members who want to check in to find out."
Webster said if a tenant causes $20,000 damage to a rental unit, for example, other landlords should be made aware "because if they did it to one, they'll do it to others."
Webster said the list also includes brief descriptions of why each name has been included. Those details are submitted by the landlord, though Webster said his association doesn't check the veracity of the allegations.
"If a tenant wants to find out if they are on [the list], they can call myself or one of the other members, and we'll go in and tell them exactly what they're saying about them."
Commissioner's office sided with tenants in previous case
CBC News asked the Office of the Privacy Commissioner about the complaint by New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, but did not receive a response by publishing time.
However, in a previous case, the office ultimately recommended that a "bad tenant" list be destroyed as it was in violation of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
In its decision posted in February 2016, the office said the complainant alleged a property management company was improperly collecting, using and disclosing tenants' personal information by maintaining a "bad tenant" list for a landlord association, and that her rental application was denied because her name showed up on it.
The decision doesn't identify the property management company that kept the list or say where it operated
"The management company confirmed that it held the list on behalf of a landlord association, explaining that landlords added the names of 'bad tenants' to the list, along with the reasons they qualified for inclusion," the office said.
"The association used the list to share information about applicants for rental accommodation."
The office said the company argued that a clause in its rental application authorized the landlord "to obtain such credit reports or other information" as may be deemed necessary in connection with the application, thus arguing that applicants had consented to their information being used for the list.
The office, however, disagreed that the clause would lead applicants to understand they were consenting to their personal information being used and disclosed for the purpose of a bad tenants list.
The office also found that tenants included in the list had no opportunity to respond to the allegations against them, and that the property management company was acting as a credit reporting agency by sharing information about tenants' past rent payment history.
"The property management company disagreed with our finding that it was acting as a credit reporting agency.
"Nonetheless, it implemented our recommendation to destroy the bad tenant list and stop collecting information for such a list. As well, members of the landlord association no longer share personal information about prospective tenants without explicit consent."