Landlords have tools to use for tenant screening, namely background checks into credit, criminal and employment histories. Another avenue for information is social media. Viewing these public accounts can give landlords insight into a prospective tenant’s personal habits. While this information is valuable, it cannot be legally used to judge a tenant.
Social Media Information
When screening a tenant, social media can provide information on pets that were not disclosed on the application, partying habits that might result in excessive noise or damage and how well the prospective tenant is taking care of a current rental property.
Discrimination Laws and the Fair Housing Act
While social media can be a informative tool for tenant screening, some landlords choose not to use it to avoid discrimination lawsuits. It is best practice to utilize the legally available methods when considering an application. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, color, gender, disability or family status and requires that reasonable accommodation be made for persons who are physically challenged. Landlords must also follow all state anti-discrimination laws as well.
Social Media Laws
A number of states have passed laws that protect email and social media accounts from being scrutinized by colleges and employers. Public profiles are not protected, but landlords should stay current on all laws or amendments that apply to social media and privacy while conducting tenant screening.
Landlords who do check social media accounts should keep the following tips in mind:
• Equality. If one prospective tenant is checked through tenant screening, then all applicants should be checked the same way.
• Facts. Not all information presented on social media is accurate. It is possible to link online data to someone else with the same name.
• Legality. Landlords should not discriminate against protected classes of people or break federal and state laws regarding social media during the screening process.
• Document. Keep detailed records of information found online.
Using traditional tenant screening methods will keep landlords and property managers out of legal trouble.