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Know Your Landlord: The initiative challenging how we think about renting

Know Your Landlord wants to start a conversation about landlords and tenants.

Know Your Landlord wants to start a conversation about landlords and tenants. Photo: Getty

Imagine if there was a way for a tenant to get to know a landlord better before they signed a lease and handed over a pile of personal data – and all that money in rent.

Currently, landlords can get a plethora of information about their tenants, but not the other way around.

Some describe this as a power imbalance between landlords and tenants, which is why urbanism researchers at the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning have created a mock-up of an app called Know Your Landlord.

The app is meant to demonstrate what could theoretically be done if landlords handed over their information to tenants, the same way tenants do to landlords.

“Australia’s rental landscape is disproportionately skewed in favour of landlords,” project lead Dr Dallas Rogers said.

“Renters often give up an alarming amount of personal data just to secure a place to live; our project seeks to recalibrate this imbalance and show that a fairer future is possible.”

With Know Your Landlord, tenants would be able to see whether a landlord regularly increases the rent or is willing to keep up the maintenance, whether the property is liveable, or if the landlord has chewed through tenants.

It was designed as a thought experiment, Rogers explained.

“This is a conversation that we want to broker with renters, with landlords [and] with everyone who thinks housing is a social issue,” he told The New Daily.

What Know Your Landlord is really about

The initiative was done in partnership with the Tenants Union of NSW, Tenants Queensland, Tenants Victoria and Jack Toohey, who creates content on the rental crisis.

In a press release, Toohey said there is a “pervasive belief” in Australia that access to good housing is a reflection on the individual.

“By teaming up with academic experts to create educational and engaging content, we hope to bring awareness to the fact that housing is a systemic issue, not an individual one, and an issue that can (and should) be changed,” he said.

“Change comes through enough people understanding the problems and believing in the solutions, and I’m excited for this campaign to be a part of that.”

Every year, the Tenants Union of NSW has 80,000 tenancy issues reported, which shows there is a need for renters to have access to safe, affordable and secure homes.

“It’s so hard for renters because we have a rental system where people buy rental properties and they think of them as assets,” Rogers said.

“And so they’re treating the provision of housing as a business and they’re trying to maximise the return on their investment and they’re not often thinking about the property that they’re renting out as a service to a tenant, as a tenant’s home.”

The provision of housing is essential to everyone, Rogers said.

“That service provision should be focused on the tenants’ needs. It should be about safe and healthy housing, affordable housing.

“If the economics of that doesn’t work out, if people are saying ‘well, I can’t run that business in that way, I can’t provide housing that has secure tenancy and long-term rent and is safe for people and the rent won’t go up and people can afford it’, then maybe we need a different way of providing housing? Maybe we need a different landlord system?”

Renting is also a data issue

Potential tenants are asked for plenty of information: Are you a good tenant? Do you have a good job? Will you pay the rent? Do you have pets?

The whole idea of Know Your Landlord, beyond just sparking a conversation, is to examine the intersection of property technology, known as ‘prop tech’ and the private rental market.

“It’s very hard for tenants to secure homes and they’re providing a lot of information to secure a property and yet they know almost nothing about their landlords,” Rogers said.

“So we saw that as a data privacy and equity issue and so this project was built around that dilemma that we found.”

It would also just be helpful for tenants to know if a potential landlord has already paid off the mortgage or if they continually evict tenants, especially when they are being asked for so much and given little protection, Rogers said.

According to a report from Choice, 60 per cent of renters are not comfortable with the amount and type of information that is being collected and 41 per cent feel pressured to use a third-party platform for the application by either a realtor or a landlord.

The data tenants provide could then be used to discriminate against them, be monetised or sold, be held for any length of time without security protections, or even leave people vulnerable to data breaches and hacks, Know Your Landlord says.

Topics: rentals
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