When tenants apply to rent somewhere to live, they usually have to fill out long pages of information about themselves, and they often don’t question why or how the landlord is going to use the personal information that they are providing. Tenants should be concerned about protecting their personal identity and guarding what information they give out to businesses and organizations.
When a tenant fills out an application form, there are a few questions that the tenant should think about before deciding whether or not to provide certain information.
Does the landlord need this information in order to decide whether or not to rent to you?
Landlords are only legitimately allowed to request information from applicants that will directly help the landlord decide whether or not to rent to the applicant. This means that the landlord can, for example, ask for confirmation of your income. Whether or not you can afford to pay the rent is a major determining factor for receiving the approval of the landlord.
More info: Landlord Responsibilities
If the landlord has a valid reason for asking for this information, is there another method of delivering the information that is less invasive to your privacy?
Now that you know that the landlord can ask for confirmation of income, let’s say that in the application the landlord is asking for contact information for your boss so that the landlord can call the place where you work. If you are uncomfortable with the landlord contacting your boss directly, you can offer to provide the information that is needed in an alternative way. All that the landlord needs to know is how much you make, so how else could you provide that information? You could give the landlord a copy of your T4, pay stubs, or a letter from your employer. Remember to block out information that you don’t want the landlord to know. For example, your T4 has your social insurance number (SIN) listed, so you should consider blocking that information out.
You should never release your SIN to the landlord. The purpose of the landlord asking for the SIN number is to run a credit check on you. Your landlord can also receive a credit check if you provide your full name and birthday. There is the risk that if someone shares your birthday and name, then the check could produce more than one credit report.
If the information is not necessary for the landlord to know about, then what should you do?
What if the landlord asks for something that you think is unreasonable? For example, let’s say the landlord asks for all of your banking information and a void cheque in the application. The landlord does not need this information in order to determine whether or not to rent to you. You can talk to the landlord about the information, and explain your reasons for refusing to provide the information. In this case, you may want to give an alternative and offer to provide banking information at a later date, if you are accepted as a tenant. Keep in mind that most provinces do not have a law that states how rent must be paid, so the landlord cannot usually demand that you pay by automatic withdrawal.
Once you are accepted and become a tenant, then your landlord may be able to request additional information from you. For example, your landlord may require you to provide emergency contact information, or the make, model and licence plate number of your car if you use parking provided by the landlord. You should still keep the questions in mind when you are asked to provide information, because there are limits on the information that the landlord needs to know.
Now that you’ve given a lot of personal information to your landlord, what is he or she allowed to do with it?
The landlord has an obligation to take reasonable steps to protect your personal information. The landlord will usually have to get your consent before releasing your personal information to anyone. There are times when the landlord may not have to get your consent, including if it’s an emergency situation or if another law requires disclosure of that information. One thing to keep in mind is that your landlord can probably use the information that you provided to collect unpaid rent from you. For example, your landlord may be able to pass your contact information on to a collection agency.
Every province has an Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. Most provinces have developed resources specifically for privacy issues between landlords and tenants. Those offices can also answer questions if you have concerns about the information you are being asked to release.
This column was produced with the generous support of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation.