Inspection photos may breach tenants’ privacy

Landlords and those doing their bidding need to tread cautiously when taking photos of rental properties for inspection records.

Friday, February 8th 2008, 2:20PM

by The Landlord

The Tenancy Tribunal recently fined a Christchurch property management company, Brazier Property Management, for breaching a tenant’s privacy due to the number of photos taken during a property inspection.

A total of 66 photos were taken of the townhouse, and the tenant complained that too many were of his possessions, rather than recording the condition of the property.

In finding against the property manager, the Tribunal accepted the tenant’s argument that his contract was with the landlord and the owner had no right of inspection, nor to any photographs of the property.

“In this case, Braziers, as landlord, did not require photos because it could see the premises directly. The owner of the premises has no right to require photos,” says the ruling. It also says owners have no right of inspection once they employ a property manager.

Scotney Williams, principal of the Tenancy Practice Service, agrees that 66 photos “does seem more than is reasonably necessary,” but does not agree with the finding that the owner could not require the photos.

“The property manager is only ever acting for the owner and that should not preclude the owner completing an inspection,” he says. “There seems no good reason why the tenant’s rights are infringed if the owner in lieu of the agent completes a routine inspection.”

Williams says tenant’s personal belongings should be put away and not photographed. “If it’s furniture which is being photographed, then either the tenant moves it for the shot or it stays in the photograph. But the landlord or agent should be entitled to photograph every part of every room, how else will they have a comprehensive record?”

He describes the Tribunal’s suggestion that the property manager did not need to photograph the property because they could see it, as “ludicrous”.

“Taking photographs has long been an effective method of recording condition and most Tribunals actually expect it as part of the evidence.”

Pat Allen of Allens Realty says there needs to be a bona fide reason why a property manager would do something that the tenant might view as a breach of privacy. He cites the example that a property manager wouldn’t normally open a bathroom cupboard – unless they considered it necessary to check plumbing.

Allen believes, “10 or 12 photos would probably be seen as reasonable to record the condition of the interior.”
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