AB against STUFF

Case Number: 3249

Council Meeting: March 2022

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Comment and Fact
Privacy

Overview

1. On 6th January 2022 Stuff published an article titled Auckland landlord ups rent $50 to $900 per week due to ‘overwhelming response’. The      complainant alleges that the article breaches the following principles:

  • Principle 4: Comment and Fact
  • Principle 12: Corrections
  • Principle 2: Privacy

2. The complainant has raised genuine concerns about their privacy. The complainant has not been named in the article and accordingly, the complainant has been anonymised in this decision. The complainant is referred to as AB. 

Auckland landlord ups rent $50 to $900 per week due to ‘overwhelming response’

3. AB advertised their property for rent via TradeMe for $850 a week. After the advertisement gathered considerable interest online, AB sent an email to all interested parties advising that the rent would increase to $900 a week due to the ‘overwhelming response’. Stuff received a copy of this email. One of the interested renters, Julie Gielen, subsequently lodged a complaint with Tenancy Services.

4. Stuff contacted MBIE’S Tenancy Services and they were unable to comment on whether the landlord had breached anti-bidding rules until they had further information.

5. The article briefly outlines the rules on rental bidding, acknowledging that prospective tenants can still offer to pay more than the standard amount.

6. Comments were provided from Renters United, a group who advocate for renter protection and warn against vague laws which still allow bidding.

7. Renters United spokesperson Geordie Rogers commented on AB’s property advert and said it did not appear to be a breach of the Residential Tenancies Act but similar occurrences were becoming more frequent.

8. Hon. Jan Tinetti (MP) was interviewed and advised that Ms Gielen should contact the Tenancy Services Compliance team.

 9. Ms Gielen also states that the platform administering the rental property, myRent.co.nz, has a duty to stop unethical behaviour.

 10. Gavin Lloyd, the sales director of Trade Me Property was interviewed. He confirmed that all members must comply with New Zealand law, including the RTA and Fair Trading Act. Properties that breach the law cannot be listed.

11. Mr Lloyd advised that while AB’s actions do not breach the law or their terms or conditions, it does raise ethical questions for the landlord to consider. TradeMe had no intention of removing the advert.

12. AB’s name was not mentioned in the article.

13. AB’s street name and suburb were in the article. After AB’s initial complaint to Stuff, the street name was removed.

14.  A photograph of AB’s rental property and suburb remained in the article.

The Complaint

15. AB is the owner and landlord of the property mentioned in the article.

16. AB is upset with the comments made about their property and decisions as a landlord.

17. AB claims that they were not aware that Stuff had tried to make contact until AB found a handwritten note on their door, despite the article stating that there were ‘many attempts to contact the landlord’.

18. AB requested that the article be removed from Stuff’s website immediately.

19. There was a reference to the street name and suburb where AB’s property is located.  A photo of the property is also in the article. AB is concerned that these details breach their privacy and may invite malicious tenants to take their anger out on AB because of their position as a landlord.

20. AB is concerned about their safety and their family’s safety, in case there is any backlash from the article. 

21. AB is questioning how details such as their street, suburb and photo of the house is considered fair and accurate reporting.

22. AB is living in the property mentioned in the article.

The Response

23. Stuff confirms that AB has not contested the accuracy of the news story.

24. The street number of AB’s property was not published however when AB complained about the street name being identified, Stuff agreed to remove that detail on the basis of goodwill rather than obligation or because it had been published in error. Stuff asserts that the removal of this fact was not a correction. Stuff does not believe that any corrections are necessary.

25. Stuff does not accept that AB’s privacy was breached because they were not named in the story. AB’s property, including photographs, were already advertised for rent on popular websites including TradeMe.

26. In response to quoting AB’s email in the story, Stuff does not accept that this breached their privacy.

27. Stuff made several attempts to contact AB for comment. Although they did not have a phone number or email for AB, the reporter made the following attempts to contact them. The reporter;

  • Personally applied for the rental: when personally applying for the property, the reporter identified themselves as a reporter hoping to contact the owner. The reporter received a subsequent email advising the property had been rented on January 6th;
  • Used Trace Tools to track the owners of the property and called all possibilities through phone records;
  • Sent emails to a number of staff at MyRent including a generic customer service line via hello@myrent.co.nz, contacted the Chief Executive via email and the tech lead and senior developers;
  • Emailed the co-owner of the property through the Companies Office;
  • Visited the property twice leaving notes and business cards, both at the property advertised and another property owned by the co-owner.

The Decision

Principle 4 Comment and Fact

28. The complaint alleges that the article breaches principle 4.

29. It is a factual news story and AB has not contested any of the facts outlined in the article except that Stuff did not make ‘many attempts’ to contact them for comment.

30. Stuff has provided sufficient evidence that there were several attempts to contact AB and while there was pressure to respond in a short timeframe, there were several opportunities for AB to engage with Stuff prior to publication.

31. It must also be acknowledged that AB provided quotes to the reporter at a later stage. However, they could only be used if the image of their property was removed.

32. The article shared comments from a diverse range of credible and relevant sources such as TradeMe Property Sales Director Gavin Lloyd, the Minister Hon. Jan Tinetti and Geordie Rogers from the Renters Union.

33. Stuff made a considered effort to include varied perspectives, as well as several attempts to engage with AB prior to publication.

34. On this basis, the complaint under this principle is not upheld.

Principle 12: Corrections

35. AB requested that the street address and photograph of their property be removed.

36. Stuff removed the street name out of goodwill and the photograph remains. These two details are not fundamental or factual errors.

37. The Media Council acknowledges Stuff’s decision to remove the street name in a timely manner.

38. As the street name was removed from the article at the earliest opportunity and neither the street name nor photograph are considered errors, the complaint under this principle is not upheld.

Principle 2: Privacy;

39. AB alleges that Stuff has breached their privacy through the publication of a photograph of their property.

40. The Media Council acknowledges the distress that AB has experienced while reading an article with a photograph of their home featured.

41. Photographs of AB’s property were advertised on TradeMe and are still publicly available on myrent.co.nz. As photographs of AB’s property are already in the public domain through rental platforms, the photograph in the article is not considered a privacy breach. 

42. The complaint also alleges a privacy breach in respect of the contents of the email sent to interested applicants which was quoted in the article. AB’s personal information was not identified or referred to in the article. Only a section of the email was quoted. There is no additional information which directly or indirectly links it to AB.

43. The complaint refers to the Privacy Act 2020. The Privacy Act does not apply to news gathering and therefore does not apply under these circumstances. The Media Council must rely on its principles and in consideration of all the factors outlined, principle two is not upheld.

Decision:

44. The Media Council recognises that the publication of affairs relating to any individual may cause a considerable amount of stress to them and their family members. However, the reporting in this article is factual and the information included in the article does not breach any of the Media Council’s principles. The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon. Raynor Asher (chair) Hank Schouten, Tim Watkins, Jonathan MacKenzie, Jo Cribb, Marie Shroff, Liz Brown, Katrina Bennett, Reina Vaai and Alison Thom.

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