Posted by Ryan Howard on Tue, Jun 28, 2016
Recent news highlights a new trend: a tenant screening tool that requests access to your Facebook messages. With so much of our social and search information available online, it's no surprise that employers and landlords may want to get to know applicants better. Many questions arise in the advent of Internet searches including privacy concerns. Also, if an applicant refuses to give access to this information, can it be used against them?
Most importantly, does social media and search history determine the ability to be a good tenant?
Because landlords and property managers wish to protect their interests and collect rent, tenant screening is as important as employers screening potential job candidates. At a minimum, tenant screening should include the following screens:
- Applicant identity check
- Criminal background check
- Income and employment verification
- Credit report
- Rental history
Tenants that are unqualified could lead to thousands of dollars in landlord/tenant litigation, destroyed property, turnover costs and bad debt write offs.
What does the internet say about you?
Our internet searches and social media posts may offer some insights into our personalities. For instance, landlords may look at photos of late night parties and assume destructive tendencies or neighborhood disturbance. A negative post about a current landlord may cause concern to a potential new landlord.
If any social posts or photos are public, there is a possibility that a landlord could find it.
However, just as with searching an employee's background on social media, not all of the information may be accurate. Landlords can easily be thrown off course when searching a tenant's background on social media by the following:
- Computer twins - If two people share the same or similar names and general background information, the social media search may reveal information that isn't related to the tenant at all.
- Cyber bullying - Anyone can post false or damaging information about another person. When searching the internet for information, it is may not be possible to completely separate truth from malicious fiction.
- Cyber identity - Many social media users choose any different identity to represent themselves, which creates more potential for false results.
Fair Housing and other tenant protections
While it may be tempting to verify rental application information through the internet, landlords must also be aware of tenant rights and protections under the law. Fair Housing laws prohibits discrimination on the basis of certain "protected categories" including race, religion, national origin, familial status (including those under 18, pregnant women, and those with children), age or disability. Certain states also have other fair housing laws that must be adhered to.
Landlords must also be aware of being swayed in one direction or another by what they find on the internet. For instance, a landlord may find themselves rejecting or pre-judging a potential renter because their political views are different. Property owners may make an unfair assumption that a tenant may be unable to pay rent because of posts related to shopping habits. Some information may permanently damage the landlord/tenant relationship even if the renter is golden in every other way. If the renter recognizes discrimination in this way, the landlord could also potentially have discrimination claims filed against them.
Obviously there is information that property managers do need to know about tenants such as:
- Do you smoke?
- Do you have pets?
- Will the number of occupants exceed what is allowed for the property?
If a landlord is asking other questions related to age, family status or religion, they are crossing the line and could potentially violate fair housing laws. Searching for this information on the internet is the same thing.
Consider the source
When screening a tenant for a rental property, consider the source. It's true that a rental application may not always reveal the whole story, but searching the internet for information could reveal a story that isn't true at all. Hiring a third party screening company that provides tenant screening will provide accurate, trustworthy information on your renter, including rental history and a possible forecast on their ability to pay rent on time. Social media searches could sway a landlord's perception of a tenant and or lead to unlikely discrimination and litigation.
To learn more about what's included in a tenant screening background check, click the button below to download a sample report.