The Privacy Act 1988 covers organisations with an annual turnover of more than $3 million, and some other organisations. This may include real estate agents.

If you want to know whether the Privacy Act covers a real estate agent, just ask them. If the Privacy Act covers them, they must have a privacy policy that they should make available to you and have on their website.

What information can your real estate agent handle?

If the Privacy Act covers a real estate agent then a real estate agent can only collect personal information that is reasonably necessary for one of their functions or activities. A real estate agent isn’t allowed to collect more information than is necessary because it is convenient or they think it may be useful in the future.

Before a real estate agent collects your personal information, they should let you know:

  • why they need to collect it
  • what happens if you don’t give it to them
  • who they would usually disclose it to
  • that you can access it
  • that you can complain about their handling of it.

Generally, a real estate agent may not collect sensitive information without your consent.

A real estate agent may only disclose your personal information for the reason they collected it (the primary purpose) unless an exception applies. For example, they may collect your personal information to assess your application for a tenancy. So they may disclose that you’ve applied to rent the property to a residential tenancy database operator, the property’s landlord, your previous real estate agent (if they’re giving you a reference) and any other referee you have nominated.

Can a real estate agent collect a government-related identifier?

A real estate agent may also collect a government-related identifier if it is reasonably necessary for one of their functions or activities. But, they generally must not adopt, use or disclose these numbers.

A government-related identifier is a unique number usually found on Australian government and state and territory government identity documents, such as, a Medicare number, a Centrelink customer reference number, a driver licence number or a birth certificate number. These documents may also have personal information a real estate agent doesn’t need. If a real estate agent needs a copy of such a document, think about blanking out personal information the real estate agent doesn’t need.

If a real estate agent needs to use or disclose a document with a government-related identifier, including copying the document, they must generally blank the government-related identifier out.

Your tax file number is a government-related identifier the Australian Taxation Office issues. Strict rules apply to the handling of a tax file number. These rules apply to all real estate agents, whether the Privacy Act covers them or not.

For more information about government-related identifiers, see the Australian Privacy Principles Guidelines, Chapter 9.

What is a residential tenancy database?

A real estate agent may use a residential tenancy database.

A residential tenancy database holds personal information about an individual’s defaults or alleged defaults on any tenancy agreements, including damage or failure to pay rent. A real estate agent may supply this information to a residential tenancy database operator, so another real estate agent can access the information when assessing a tenancy application.

The Privacy Act covers any organisation that runs a residential tenancy database, regardless of their annual turnover.

Can a real estate agent take photos in your house?

Tenancy laws cover when your real estate agent is allowed to take photos in your house and it is best practice for them to consult you about this.

If they collect personal information, such as images of photos or diplomas, then they must follow the Privacy Act when handling such information.

If a real estate agent is taking photos of your property or household belongings, especially for advertising purposes, you may like to remove items that could reveal your personal information such as photographs. The Privacy Act doesn’t cover images of personal possessions.

You should complain to the real estate agent if you feel they’ve mishandled your personal information. For other concerns, contact the rental tenancy association in your state or territory.

If you’re not happy with a real estate agent’s response to your complaint, you can lodge a complaint with us