Landlords in B.C. are generally collecting too much personal information from potential tenants, the province’s acting privacy watchdog says, and in many cases are violating privacy laws.
In a report published Thursday, acting privacy commissioner Drew McArthur examined the personal details collected by 13 landlords during the tenancy application process, and compared it to what is authorized by the Personal Information Protection Act.
“Low vacancy rates may prompt landlords to believe they can collect whatever information they want from prospective tenants,” said McArthur in a news release. “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.”
His report includes examples of things landlords had requested that he found to be “invasive” and “concerning,” such as a copy of their child’s report cards, their T4 slips, and their social insurance number.
Landlords had asked would-be tenants how long they’d been a customer at their bank, were they born in Canada, and would they consent to an inspection of their current home before their application would be approved?
The report makes recommendations such as never collecting information from social media or internet search engines; limiting the amount of required personal information on application forms; and requiring a credit check only when a potential tenant can’t provide proper references about past tenancies, employment or income.
“Rentals make up 30% of housing in B.C.,” McArthur said. “Unfortunately, many applicants feel they have no choice but to provide this information to avoid missing out on a place to live.”
LandlordBC CEO David Hutniak said he agrees with the recommendations for the most part, saying landlords must understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to their own privacy and that of their tenants.
But he said he struggles with not being able to check out someone’s publicly available social media profiles.
“For those to be taken out of the equation in 2018, we think that definitely needs to be re-considered,” Hutniak said. “It’s primarily out of concern for the smaller landlords.”
Roughly 60 to 70 per cent of rental housing in Vancouver is secondary market, he said, such as condos and secondary suites. These landlords may lack the experience of someone who manages a 100-tenant building to spot potentially problem renters, and need to be able to use tools such as social media and credit checks.
In a telephone interview with Black Press Media, McArthur said his office has always told employers they cannot use publicly available social media to screen potential employees.
“While may be available to the public, it’s not described as public in our legislation,” he said, adding any details gleaned from someone’s Facebook or Instagram account must relate to their prospective tenancy.
“Landlords can refer to references. You can go and check references and do that diligently.”
Hutniak said his organization, which has about 3,300 members, plans to reach out to the privacy commissioner and Housing Minister Selina Robinson to discuss the report.
Referring to the current housing affordability crisis, he said: “The last thing we need are any sort of measures that are going to sway people not to rent out their homes.”
In an email, Robinson said it’s disturbing to see some landlords are taking advantage of low vacancy rates and violating personal privacy.
“We will review educational resources made available to landlords to ensure they align with the recommendations in this report.”
McArthur’s office also published guidance documents to help landlords figure out what personal information they can collect and what they cannot.