A tenant wrote to us and asked, “Is it a violation of privacy for a landlord to take pictures of a rental unit if a tenant’s personal items are also visible in the photos?”
Tenant privacy is a subject that has been in the news recently after a landlord in B.C. allowed reporters into a rental unit that had been occupied by terror suspects.
The latter situation is quite rare, but the issue of privacy is on the minds of most tenants, and is often debated in dispute resolution. In fact, it was concern over privacy laws that prompted the decision to protect tenant names in eviction proceedings.
Canada’s Office of Privacy Commissioner addresses the issue: “Taking photographs of an individual’s apartment or rental unit is a collection of personal information. The purpose must be identified prior to or at the time of collection, the individual’s knowledge and consent must be obtained, and a reasonable effort must be made to ensure that the individual understands how the information will be used or disclosed.”
The RTA provides opportunities for landlords to comply with this standard. A rental application requests consent to run a credit check, and for other personal information to be used in screening a tenant. The requirements concerning condition reports provide notice to the tenant along with the opportunity for the tenant to be present during inspections. Also, landlords entering the property must provide adequate notice.
While the law is generally on the landlord’s side when it comes to taking photos of rental properties, landlords don’t win in every case. The outcome largely depends on how the photos are used, and whether tenants had a chance to avoid unwanted exposure. A landlord may improve the odds by:
Notifying tenants in advance that photos or videos will be taken when the tenant moves out, or if damage is spotted during routine property inspections.
Limiting photos to the areas of damage, and avoiding shots of personal items if possible without compromising the view of the damage. Also, limit the use of photos to disputes with tenants or other stated purposes. Don’t share the photos with other individuals, or post the photos on public sites.
Stick to the RTA rules. For instance, know when it is appropriate to enter a rental unit, and provide the notice required by law.
If photos may be taken during the visit, include that in the notice.
To the extent that the tenant has prior warning, a landlord reduces the likelihood of a complaint. Dispute resolution or lawsuits take time and money, even if the landlord ultimately prevails.
Lay out the schedule for routine inspections in the lease agreement, and give advance notice prior to each entry. And again, let tenants know you may bring a camera.
There are other practices that can give rise to claims of violation of privacy. For instance, if the landlord has the right to enter the rental property, don’t assume that necessarily means others — like friends or family members — can tag along. Be careful to mention in the notice if workers or rental applicants are included.
Tenant screening requires the collection of personal information, and that information is protected by privacy laws. Landlords need to take steps to prevent theft or unauthorized disclosure of a tenant’s personal data.
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).
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in 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.