Screening or Snooping? How Landlords Should Use Social Media

Love it or hate it, social media is everywhere. It is an addiction that has crept into the palms of most adults, and it’s showing no sign of slowing down. In fact, with interactive, wearable technologies on the horizon, it seems that it will continue to make an impact on our world.

There are endless platforms, each with its own quirks and communities. The result is that many people are displaying increasingly intimate aspects of their lives in a public domain. We share pictures of the food we that eat, the clothes that we wear, our pets, our music, our location, our parties, and even political opinions. A recent post on Redbrick suggests that social media is taking over our lives!

“It may sound dramatic but social media is literally taking over our lives. There is this persistent urge to Facebook, tweet, Snapchat and Instagram our daily moves in an attempt to express our identity to the world and make ourselves feel valued. Unfortunately showing that in today’s day and age we have become obsessed with virtual reality.” ~ Redbrick

Image courtesy of JSUMS.eduWith so much information readily available, we are able to learn a lot about one another and, undeniably, make judgements about each other, too. The opportunity to snoop and peer into private lives is more convenient than ever - in fact, people seem to thrive on the attention and want to be seen.

So, where does that leave people who could benefit from learning a little more about the lives of individuals behind the scenes? Is it right for landlords to use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as part of tenant screening?

Surely, it makes sense to take a look at potential rental tenants while they are off guard, to see what they are like when they are at home. It offers a previously hidden insight into how they will live within your property. Such information is of huge value to a landlord who wants to take good care of their investment.


Right To Privacy

One question that is on the mind of many landlords considering using social media as a tenant-screening tool is whether they are breaching the privacy of Image courtesy of SEOIntl.netpotential tenants. The law is sketchy, but, for the most part, information that is available in the public domain can be considered publicly available. The following excerpt from explains in more detail.

“In Europe, Canada, and other countries across the world, protection of each citizen’s private information is considered to be a human right, secured by statute and enforced by government and private causes of action. In the United States, by contrast, only certain classes of information are protected under federal law – financial transactions, health care transactions, and information regarding children under the age of 13 – while nearly all other data is considered to be fair game for any business or government agency that chooses to collect, store, and use the information.”

It is the responsibility of each individual to protect the data that they share and to decide what to keep private, and public profiles are not protected by any privacy laws. However, landlords should make an effort to stay up to date on amendments in the law that applies to social media and privacy, as things could change.

Potential For Discrimination

Image courtesy of Revel.inIt can be helpful for sure, but it can be a double-edged sword if you consider that what you find may cast an unfair shadow over a potential tenant. Photographs of partying don’t necessarily mean that the individual will be loud and trash the property. Bizarre political views that don’t match your own may lead you to suspect that they aren’t your kind of person, but this isn’t a reasonable cause to reject a potential tenant either.

Federal law ensures that landlords do not discriminate against potential tenants based on their race, gender, familial status, ethnicity, or disability. But what about the grey areas that social media offers information about? Likes, dislikes, friends, and comments are not really useful to bolster an informed decision regarding whether a potential tenant will pay their rent.

The best advice is therefore to use social media with caution, making sure it is for the right reasons. The best practice for screening candidates is to have a robust application process in place, and this should be used as your main basis for deciding on tenants for your rental properties.

Decide in advance which social media sites you will access, and stick to using the same ones for all applicants. Be clear about what you are looking for - for example, checking to see if potential tenants have pets can be useful. Be sure to document the process that you follow, to show that your methods were fair throughout the process. Resist getting sucked in to dirt digging, especially with regards to religious or political posts. Always remember that information posted on social media may not be accurate.

After Move-In

Once a tenant has been chosen and they move in to the rental property, there is the option for the landlord to connect with them on social media, by becoming friends on Facebook, for example. This may not be the traditional direction for the landlord-tenant relationship, and is of course entirely at the discretion of the individuals in question. The benefit for the landlord would be to be in the loop regarding new pets, upcoming parties, and more.

With pets in particular this can be useful, as tenants can come up with ingenious ways to hide their furry (or even slimy) friends. Just take a look at this excerpt from the American Apartment Owners Association:

“People will do everything from hiding animals in the closets or cupboards to sneaking them across the hall to the neighbor’s place (I’ve been asked to do this at least once this year). Most tenants choose cats (and other miscellaneous rodents like rabbits, rats, etc.,) because they generally make much less noise, don’t need to be walked outside, and are much easier to hide.

The tenants who want dogs wake up at the crack of dawn before the leasing office opens and either walk the dog or hide it in their car and take it to work. They wait for the cover of darkness to bring it back inside.” ~

So, connecting on social media can certainly be useful in some situations, but, forging a friendship may undermine the professional nature of the landlord-tenant relationship, making situations such as late payment of rent difficult to manage. If you feel that you could stay strong in your role as landlord, and not become an easy target for manipulating ‘sob stories’, then it could work for you.

The decision of whether to use social media as a tenant-screening tool remains the choice of each individual landlord. While some information may be useful, it is important to remain professional and clearly within the boundaries of anti-discrimination laws. Each potential applicant for a rental property should be screened in the same way, using the same social media platforms and the findings should be documented. That is the best method to ensure a legally sound, accurate screening process for potential tenants.


Article by Copley Broer

Posted on May 31, 2016


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