B.C.’s Acting Information and Privacy Commissioner Drew McArthur has published a report following an investigation into what he says are privacy abuses by landlords within the province.
The Commissioner compiled information from 13 landlords, along with informal public comments, and developed a report which was published this week.
“Rentals make up 30% of housing in BC. Near zero vacancy rates across the province have created a competitive market where landlords can ask prospective tenants for sensitive personal information as justification for seeking the ‘best’ tenant,” the Commissioner says in a statement released this week.
Private landlords are subject to the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), which regulates the collection and use of personal information, including banking and credit histories. That law recognizes the need of some individuals — like landlords — to collect data necessary to determine a person’s qualifications.
The Commissioner goes on to state, “In some cases, landlords required applicants to provide months’ worth of detailed bank statements, or for consent to conduct a credit check, or for information protected by the Human Rights Code, such as marital status. In most instances, requiring this type of information would violate BC privacy laws.”
The OIPC developed a Quick Reference graphic designed to educate landlords on what information is allowed or not allowed. The chart contains three categories, “Always Authorized”, “Sometimes Authorized”, and “(Almost) Never Authorized.” The Commissioner has determined that obtaining consent for a credit report falls into the “Sometimes Authorized” category, and recommends landlords “only require a credit check when a prospective tenant cannot provide sufficient references about previous tenancies or satisfactory employment and income verification.”
Landlords, like David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord B.C., don’t necessarily agree. He told reporters that the majority of landlords respect the privacy of tenants and that he believes all landlords should have the right to run credit checks where the applicant’s credit score isn’t affected. Landlords who follow the Commission’s recommendation to forego a credit report may be hampered when screening tenants. Credit reports are important to show financial responsibility — not income verification — and that information is not available from any other source. There is no other way to verify whether the tenant is providing accurate and complete financial information, and that leaves landlords open to income loss caused by irresponsible or dishonest tenants.
Information that falls into the “(Almost) Never Authorized” category set by the Commissioner includes:
Emergency contact information;
Vehicle information; and
Whether the occupant smokes.
While these items may not be crucial to initial tenant screening, each is important to the management of the property. For instance, emergency contacts may be necessary in the event a tenant is injured or in danger, and that information also is helpful in the event the tenant skips out without paying rent. This information typically is provided in the rental application, not the tenancy agreement or any subsequent documentation.
The Commissioner has published additional recommendations, including:
Limiting information on the rental application;
Explaining to rental applicants why the information is important for tenant screening; and
Never conducting a general Internet search on the applicant.
The OIPC has developed a Guidance Document for B.C. landlords which summarizes its position on tenant privacy.
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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.