Landlords who use WhatsApp to communicate with tenants are exposing themselves to legal action from the global communications giant, which is owned by Facebook and in the UK is the most popular way to text friends and family.
The free-to-use service has quietly ushered in new terms that mean businesses including landlords and letting agents cannot use its service to communicate with customers and must instead use a separate business version.
After talking to several landlords who wished to remain anonymous, it is clear that the use of WhatsApp is widespread within the private rented sector as a means to both on-board tenants and manage property and tenancies.
Landlords are also not being compliant with GDPR data protection and privacy laws when using the free personal version of WhatsApp for business purposes, according to consultancy Stitch.ai.
Late last year WhatsApp updated its terms to say that: “In addition, beginning on December 7, 2019, WhatsApp will take legal action against those […] that violate our Terms of Service, such as […] non-personal use, even if that determination is based on information solely available to us off our platform.”
WhatsApp expert Paul Gandar from consultancy Stitch says: “Having client messages on Personal WhatsApp Accounts – using a work phone doesn’t cut it – is something that you need to avoid if you want to maintain a client relationship over WhatsApp.”
Under the radar
He says smaller landlords with a few properties and only intermittent communications with tenants are, although technically breaking the new rules, likely to remain under the radar.
But other landlords with larger portfolios who run their own businesses whether through a limited company or not, are exposed.
There are two solutions. Either to sign-up to use the separate WhatsApp Business app or use a paid-for third-party managed service that directly plugs into WhatsApp.
“For the free version, we would point out to any business that they need to ensure they adhere to the correct naming policy, as well as WhatsApp Business Policy,” says Gandar.