In light of the growing popularity of social media vehicles like Facebook and Twitter, landlords are bound to ask: Should I research my new tenant on the Internet?
In fact, many tech savvy landlords do include a social media search in their tenant background checks.
The obvious advantage to social media research is catching tenants “unplugged” — seeing the persona they show to their friends and family. The Facebook page could bring to light a wild party, behavior a bad tenant would otherwise hide from the landlord.
Landlords can also discover if the tenant has a belligerent attitude towards the current landlord if a search reveals unflattering Tweets or even negative comments on other websites.
But there are a couple of noteworthy disadvantages to social media searches when screening tenants. Landlords know where to draw the line on discrimination and can tailor their rental applications and interview questions accordingly. With social media, it’s a matter of being careful what you wish for.
If the landlord uncovers information that could reveal a protected class, that could cast suspicion on the subsequent rejection of that applicant. Likewise, the information could be inflammatory — like involvement in an opposing political cause, and that can needlessly damage the landlord-tenant relationship.
Another issue with social media research is the veracity of the information. Tenant screening reports are regulated to optimize accuracy. Online information is created more casually, and is far more difficult to evaluate in terms of truthfulness. A landlord may wind up unfairly rejecting a qualified tenant.
Some individuals have complained that using social media for screening is a violation of their right to privacy. However, because the information typically is on a public page, these claims typically carry little weight. Under current practices, employers can’t legally ask for an applicant’s Facebook password, but they can insist on “shoulder surfing” — looking on while applicants scroll through their Friends Only posts. It is unclear whether that same standard would be applied to landlords who demand access to private social media forums.
One thing is clear: fishing for information on social media sites can be a two-edged sword — it can both help reveal a bad tenant, and at the same time generate problems for a landlord who ultimately rejects the 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).
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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.