Did you know it is unlawful for tenant databases to charge you for access to the information they hold on you? Since 23 March 2020 tenant databases have been required to give free access to information about your listing if you request it.
One of the largest tenant databases, TICA, doesn't seem keen to let you know this. We've scoured their website and it doesn't mention that NSW tenants are entitled to free access within 14 days anywhere on their website. We wrote to them to ask them to confirm they understood the law and that they will be changing the website. The website hasn't changed, and every week we hear from tenants who have been mislead into paying for access.
Accessing your listing info with TICA
Payment comes in two ways. The most prominent product for tenants is 'MyTICAFile'. This is $55 for a copy of your tenancy report immediately, and then notifications anytime your name is run in the TICA system for 6 months. Anyone who has ordered a credit report in the past will recognise that this was very similar to the approach credit agencies took. We know many people have paid for this access because they didn't know access is not allowed to be charged for.
The second path to accessing your information is tucked away as option 2 further down the page, which clearly states a cost of $19.80. If you read the tiny pop up you are told that actually you have to pay $19.80, but payment must be by bank cheque or money order only. This costs another $11-$15 depending on your provider, and you are also required to send a stamped self-addressed envelope (another couple of dollars). All of this has to be accompanied with more identification than anyone can think reasonable:
- Full name
- Date of Birth
- Drivers Licence number
- Certified copy of Drivers Licence or Proof of Age Card
- Current Address
- Stamped, Self Addressed Envelope
- Utilities Bill/Account to verify your current address
They claim this is for your privacy, but think particularly about that last requirement. They've already got your postal address on the stamped-self addressed envelope. They also already have your drivers licence (certified!). What possible reason could they have for a utility bill? How does that keep your information private or secure? Of course it's not really about that - it's about keeping the info they hold on you ''up to date'' for their real clients - their 7000 members.
Keep in mind, the databases are funded by fees paid by landlords and agents. Their site states they have 7000 members - member access to TICA for the property industry is $605 a year (which includes unlimited checks), or for self-managing landlords costs around $22 per check. Charging for access by tenants to their own information is really a punitive exercise. It's not about keeping the business running and the cost per tenancy check in reality is very small. You can tell because that $600 membership allows the running of thousands of checks a year by even medium sized agencies - this is a real giveaway as to the real cost here. Allowing tenants access to their own information is the law, but it's also law that is very easy and cheap to comply with.
TICA claims that they do comply with the law - using some pretty shaky reasoning, like that a request in writing can only be a physical piece of paper, or that they simply don't charge NSW tenants despite what it says on their website. This is a pretty risky line, because it opens up the prospect of misleading and deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law if they are accepting money from people who TICA didn't tell about their free access option.
TICA isn't the only one breaching the act. Datakatch, a newer database, charges $22 and makes no mention of free access. National Tenant Database and Trading Reference Australia both have free and paid premium access. The premium access features are also potentially in breach of the act which does not appear to make an allowance for faster paid access and free slow access - all access must be free.
Have you paid a tenant database for info? Make a complaint. Request a refund
We believe TICA, and all other tenant databases, should immediately commit to amending their website and their processes to ensure that access for tenants is free, and should offer refunds to any tenants who have paid since 23 March 2020. We have now raised this as a formal complaint with NSW Fair Trading - and we need your help to show just how widespread this is.
If you are a NSW resident and have paid for either the MyTICAFile or a Tenancy Report, or access to any other tenant database where it was not clear that access could be granted for free within 14 days, consider making a complaint to NSW Fair Trading. If NSW Fair Trading considers this serious enough behaviour, there is a maximum $1100 penalty for each time TICA has unlawfully charged for access to the database.
TICA boasts of having 7 million tenancy records. How many people from NSW have been tricked into paying for access to their own information over the last year?