An Australian tenant criminal history checker is pitching to Kiwi landlords but the locals say they prefer the local Ministry of Justice or local credit check businesses instead.

Adelaide-headquartered National Crime Check charges $39/tenant check.

Chief executive Martin Lazarevic said his business provided a fast, efficient way to check if tenants were convicted criminals.

“We are a Ministry of Justice third party provider so you can have full confidence in getting a New Zealand criminal history report from us,” Lazarevic said from Adelaide today.

The business launched here last November.

Around 1500/month checks were being done in New Zealand via the business and around 50,000/month in Australia, Lazarevic said.

“We’re relatively new in the market. It’s slow and steady,” he said. “Ideally, we want to be doing around 10,000/month. That’s what we’re aspiring to.”

David Whitburn, a landlord, former lawyer and ex-Auckland Property Investors Association president, said the Ministry of Justice website check on someone else’s criminal history was excellent for new tenant probes.

“Our manager checks criminal histories and I understand the vast majority of property managers do.But they use this Ministry of Justice weblink,” Whitburn said, citing a $10.99 cost per check.

“Managers and landlords should consider criminal checks but be mindful of the Privacy Act,” he said. Tenants must be told why the information is collected to ensure policy and risk management procedures and insurance policies are complied with.

“The information must be stored correctly, the tenant given access rights and information correction opportunities.It must not be shared with any third party without the tenant’s authorisation or any unrelated purpose,” Whitburn warned.

Asked why landlords would pay three times the Ministry of Justice charge to use the Adelaide business, Lazarevic said his business offered additional features including a biometric facial recognition check to guard against identity theft.

Tenant.co.nz asks if people have had tenancies terminated, had money deducted from bonds, had a Tenancy Tribunal order against them, have a criminal record, consumer finance or owe money to a landlord or manager.

The 12-property-owning Auckland landlord Peter Lewis said he doesn’t do criminal checks. He uses Illion Credit Check at $19.50/inquiry via a Property Investors Federation discount, looks at Facebook and asks basic questions.

“As long as they pay the rent and don’t damage the place, I don’t care if they’re shoplifting in between,” Lewis said.

He cited the case of a group of three men in their 20s where one had credit issues but two didn’t so he rented to the three and has never had problems.

Property Investors Federation executive officer Sharon Cullwick said landlords needed to find out if a tenant had a criminal record before letting a property.

“This information is vital for our insurance on the property. An example would be someone who has a record of arson and if something suspicious happens to the propertyand the insurance company after doing their own checks finds out about the tenants’ history you may not be paid out by insurance. This information is okay to gather according to the Privacy Commission,” Cullwick said.

Landlords can ask tenants for their criminal record, pre-agreement and then on lease renewal, she said.

Insurance policies differ but some insurers would not insure a rental property if the tenant had a criminal conviction, Cullwick said.

“Convictions do not necessarily mean an insurer will cancel cover, but it’s a risk factor they want the chance to consider,” she said.

Geordie Rogers, a Renters’ United spokesperson, questioned whether New Zealand criminal history data should go to Australia, asking whether there were sovereignty software issues at stake.

Lazarevic said: “We follow the New Zealand privacy principles. We have policies in place to follow the New Zealand privacy principles.”

He also worried that people dealt with by the justice system were being disadvantaged: “They’ve done their time. In the current rental environment, this will be used to discriminate against tenants. It will make it harder for people with criminal convictions to find a place,” he said.

That might mean they became social housing or state tenants, Rogers said.

Lazarevic said as part of pre-checking, criminal and credit information can be gathered by landlords “and all we’re doing is helping landlords make an educated decision”.

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