Cities like Vancouver and Victoria aren’t the only ones suffering from snoopy landlords.
A month ago, my boyfriend and I got a taste of Kelowna’s low vacancy rate as we searched for an apartment, competing, according to ad views, against hundreds of other potential renters.
The biggest shock wasn’t the competition however, it was the feeling of being exposed.
A landlord who owned an apartment in the Lower Mission requested to see our social insurance numbers and annual salary.
Coming from smaller communities where the stakes weren’t so high, we left more than a few blanks in our application as we refused to fill out optional requests for SIN numbers and “required” questions of income.
A few weeks later, our application was deemed “incomplete.”
According to Andrew Sakamoto, executive director for the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, landlords shouldn’t be asking for SIN numbers, banking information, credit cards, criminal records, or taking copies of driver’s licenses.
“A landlord is allowed to feel confident that a tenant will be able to pay their rent. They’re allowed to ask permission to run a credit report,” he said. “The fact that landlords are asking for all of this personal information and tenants are providing it, is sort of a symptom of this rental housing crisis that’s plaguing our society.”
Sakamoto also has a first-hand experience of dealing with the issue. He said he provided his SIN number to to a landlord in order to secure the tenancy.
“I know a lot of other tenants in the same boat,” he said. “With vacancy rates so low and competition so high, there’s a lot of desperation for housing.”
According to acting deputy commissioner Bradley Weldon at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, landlords can only request “necessary” information from a tenant.
“There is no reason for a landlord to request more information with a reputable reference,” said Weldon. More information should only be requested if a reference isn’t available and should be only required to determine if the individual is capable of paying the rent, he said.
“The amount of information you collect, should escalate as you have reason to escalate it. But what we’re seeing instead is one size fits all application forms that treat an individual who has a 10-year positive reference from a landlord…the same as someone who has no background whatsoever and there’s reason to believe they might not be able to make their rent payments,” he said.
The privacy commissioner is currently investigating both private and commercial landlords which was announced after the large number of inquiries it received about tenant privacy rights. The investigation should wrap up in about three to four months, said Weldon.
To access information on tenant and landlord rights visit www.oipc.bc.ca.