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Barfoot & Thompson defends marketing tactics after adding 15,000 tenants to email list without their knowledge

Property giant Barfoot & Thompson has defended its marketing tactics after adding about 15,000 tenants' email addresses to an advertising email distribution list without direct consent.

The company began sending out "Rental Insider" emails at the end of 2018, which Barfoot & Thompson General Manager Samantha Arnold described as being "designed to provide [tenants] with tips and information to avoid any issues during the tenure of their tenancy".

The emails are in fact a mixture of rental market news, advertising for home buying opportunities, advertising Barfoot & Thompson's property management services, giveaways, and event listings.

Tenants at rental properties managed by Barfoot & Thompson on behalf of the landlord began receiving the emails without opting in, and Ms Arnold confirmed to 1 NEWS that about 15,000 tenants had been added to the list without their knowledge.

Under the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007, companies are not allowed to send unsolicited email to people without consent, which is considered spamming, and carries a maximum fine of $500,000 for an organisation.

Ms Arnold admitted no direct consent was given by any tenants added to the email list, but said the company was operating on the basis of "inferred consent".

"The newsletter is sent to the email addresses of tenants we actively manage on a regular basis," she said.

The Department of Internal Affairs defines inferred consent as "when the person you wish to contact has not directly instructed you to send them a message, but due to the conduct and business relationship of the person concerned, there is a reasonable expectation that messages will be sent".

Ms Arnold said that, despite landlords being the ones actually paying and doing business with Barfoot & Thompson, her company believes tenants fit into that definition.

She said only one per cent of recipients had used the unsubscribe facility on the emails, which "demonstrates to us that the content is not considered spam and is being well received by our tenants".

Jolene Armadoros, Director of Digital Safety at the Department of Internal Affairs, which is responsible for enforcing anti-spam laws, said "our view is that any commercial electronic message that is sent to a person who has not given consent is unacceptable".

Ms Armadoros said without a formal complaint and subsequent investigation, the department was unable to say whether Barfoot & Thompson had broken the law in this instance.

"If a company is relying upon inferred consent to send commercial electronic messages, then that company should be able to demonstrate the business or other relationship they believe is established," she said.

In the calendar years of 2016, 2017 and 2018, the Department issued a total of 63 formal warnings, five civil infringement notices and accepted one enforceable undertaking in response to breaches of the Act.

"Put simply, our message to businesses is this - if there is no consent or you are unsure whether or not there is consent, don't send your message," she said.

Following inquiries from 1 NEWS, Ms Arnold said "we have reviewed our internal processes and will provide extra disclosure to future tenants on their tenancy application forms".

One of the 'Rental Insider' marketing emails sent out by Barfoot & Thompson on February 14. Source: Screenshot