Landlords asking too much of prospective renters

By on April 3, 2018
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Landlords in British Columbia collect too much personal information from their prospective tenants, according to a report from B.C.’s information and privacy commissioner.

“Rentals make up 30 per cent of housing in B.C. Near-zero vacancy rates throughout the province have created a competitive market where landlords can ask prospective tenants for sensitive personal information as justification for seeking the ‘best’ tenant,” said Drew McArthur, the acting commissioner who authored the report. “Unfortunately, many applicants feel they have no choice but to provide this information to avoid missing out on a place to live.”

The investigation examined personal information of prospective tenants collected by 13 landlords — eight for-profit landlords and three not-for-profit housing agencies. In a majority of cases examined, the commissioner found that landlords were requesting information that was either protected under the Human Rights Code, or not relevant to a person’s suitability as a tenant.

Landlords and not-for-profit organizations in B.C. are subject to the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), which regulates how organizations collect, use and disclose personal information.

Ten landlords involved in the investigation asked for information on tenancy applications which would be in contravention of PIPA — including asking prospective tenants whether they are smokers.

“It is not reasonable for a landlord to ask a prospective tenant if they smoke tobacco or cannabis,” stated the report. “Whether a prospective tenant is a smoker is not an indication of whether they will break a non-smoking condition of a tenancy.”

The report also detailed that many landlords collect personal information on prospective clients from social media sites, a practice barred by B.C.’s privacy laws.

“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 B.C. privacy laws,” stated McArthur.

Information collected by the landlords through tenancy applications were sorted into three categories: always, sometimes or never acceptable to collect.

The report acknowledged that some types of personal information, such as proof of identity, references and contact information, are necessary to determine a prospective tenant’s suitability. Landlords are also permitted to inquire whether the tenant is a pet owner or has a history with bedbugs.

In other cases, landlords must prove a need to collect certain pieces of personal information from their prospective renters. Proof of income and credit history are among this protected class of information, which a landlord can require from a tenant only if the tenant’s references are not able to provide suitable reassurance that rent would be paid.

“Many landlords are unaware that they are subject to B.C.’s privacy laws,” concluded the commissioner’s report.

The full report is available online.

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