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Alberta privacy commissioner investigates complaint related to Edmonton ‘do not rent’ list

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Rentals are up in Edmonton.
Rentals are up in Edmonton. Photo by Brendan Miller /Postmedia

Alberta’s privacy watchdog is investigating a landlord who allegedly published private information about a renter on social media.

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According to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) of Alberta, an individual filed a complaint Monday that appears to be related to Postmedia’s reporting about hundreds of Edmontonians named in ‘do not rent’ lists by local landlords on Facebook. Advocacy group Public Interest Alberta (PIA) asked OIPC to investigate the tenant blacklists the same day.

“We received Public Interest Alberta’s general request for investigation on the practice of landlords sharing personal information about tenants on social media. We will review PIA’s request and respond directly to them,” spokesman Scott Sibbald wrote in an email Tuesday.

“We also received a privacy complaint from an individual who alleges that their landlord posted information about them online in contravention of (Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act). We review or investigate all privacy complaints.”

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Postmedia discovered two tenant lists hosted in local landlord Facebook groups. The first list, which was still available as of Tuesday in the recently renamed group “Landlords Exchange —  Tenant Experiences — Edmonton and Area,” includes more than 440 names of allegedly bad tenants of which most don’t include any justification. Facebook group members have continued commenting on a master post requesting names be added in recent days.

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A second list with more than 470 names was found in a second, now deleted group. A third Facebook group, Alberta Landlord Community, has been used to post information about tenants or vet prospective renters, but doesn’t include a dedicated list.

Some landlords have argued a database is needed to avoid tenants causing significant property damage or owing rent.

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Tenant blacklists are “likely illegal” as they may break Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act, Sibbald has said. These laws govern how information is collected, stored and shared, if there is consent, and if information is used in a reasonable way, according to the OIPC.

The OIPC did not disclose the name of the complainant or landlord. The office’s findings are only made public if the agency conducts an inquiry and issues an order.

‘Public interest’

PIA spokesperson Bradley Lafortune urged the OIPC to investigate, saying it’s in the public interest to do so.

“I think it’s pretty clear peoples’ private information is being shared without their consent and can have long-term impacts on peoples’ efforts to find housing,” he said in an interview.

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Lafortune argues Alberta’s Residential Tenancy Act also needs to be reformed: “We are concerned about housing security and we think there should be a serious look at rent controls and regulating rent increases, as well as bans on evictions explored as well.”

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Alberta NDP seniors and housing critic Lori Sigurdson, in an email, urged the province to intervene to stop the blacklisting which “undermines peoples’ right to access housing.” Alberta has a shortage of affordable housing, she said, and needs to work with the federal government to get more.

“Whether you live in an apartment, a house, a basement suite, or row housing, rent should be affordable and the home secure,” she wrote. “Much more needs to be done to support renters in Alberta and we are committed to making the necessary changes to do so.”

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Brett Farrell, press secretary to Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish, encouraged landlords to review their privacy obligations on the OIPC’s website, and for tenants to use the Find Housing online tool. The Residential Tenancy Act is “fair and balanced to both landlords and tenants” and Albertans can use the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service, he said in an email.

Farrell encouraged landlords to protect themselves from costly damages using existing options and said both tenants and landlords can get insurance.

“Landlords can check a prospective tenant’s background, credit history, and rental experience through appropriate means, such as by contacting tenant-offered references or by searching the name of the prospective tenant with the Court of Queen’s Bench to see past judgements from the RTDRS or provincial court,” he said in an email.

lboothby@postmedia.com

@laurby

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