The Downside of Screening Tenants on Social Media

by Chris on March 26, 2018

In a perfect world, landlords could collect as much information as possible to adequately screen tenants and find the right renter for a property. Social media appears — at least on the face of it — to provide much of that information. The problem though, is that a rental application can only go so far in probing aspects of an individual applicant’s life history.

Not only is information on social media unverified, it could reveal more about a prospective tenant than the landlord has a right to know. In that case, it’s what you do know that can hurt you:

Family Status

Posts about marital status, involvement in groups like divorce support, or plans to adopt a child can provide more information than what is appropriate for the rental application. If the landlord’s decision to reject an applicant is based in part on this information, that could lead to a claim of discrimination.

Past Drug or Alcohol Abuse

Substance abuse in the past typically is considered a disability. Discovering that your prospective tenant belongs to a support group or donates to charities that assist recovering substance abusers might reveal a disability that has no bearing on the person’s qualifications.

While it is illegal to reject an applicant based on a disability, it also is illegal to reject an applicant because of the perception of a disability. These types of social media posts can illicit information that makes a landlord vulnerable.

Disability

Not all disabilities are apparent, nor do disabilities have any bearing on an applicant’s qualifications. It generally is up to a rental applicant to disclose a disability and ask for accommodation. Posts or group affiliations can reveal information about a disability that a tenant otherwise would keep from the landlord.

Religious Affiliation

A person’s religious practices cannot be considered when evaluating a rental application. Gaining access to this information doesn’t help with the tenant background check and could be viewed as the reason an applicant was rejected.

Age

Age, both senior or junior, can be grounds for a discrimination claim. This information may be requested on an application — like requiring an applicant to be over the age of 18 or to provide a date of birth for a credit check. But if the applicant is rejected based on supplemental information that changes the landlord’s perspective, that could be problematic.

National Origin

Place of origin cannot be solicited on a rental application, and is not grounds for rejecting a tenant. Yet, social media posts may reveal a person’s place of origin, which could trigger stereotyping, and ultimately, an inappropriate rejection of the application.

Privacy Concerns

While information that someone reveals on public posts on the Internet likely is not protected as private, some landlords have gone so far as to demand access to private social media pages. Because this information is not necessary to screen tenants, that demand may be considered a violation of the applicant’s right to privacy.

False Information

Social media profiles are relatively easy to embellish. At best, social media searches will reveal supplemental information. This information is prepared by the applicant and is unverified, so its value may be diminished by the risk of a discrimination claim.

Other public information, like a broad Internet name search that reveals newspaper articles regarding a person’s recent criminal history, may be of more value. In those instances, the information likely was vetted and verified before being published. This information may not be sufficient to reject an applicant, but it does justify additional due diligence when screening that applicant.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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