The Perils and Pitfalls of Tenant Screening Through Social Media

The Perils and Pitfalls of Tenant Screening Through Social Media

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The internet loves to cancel people. It’s incredibly easy to look up a person’s entire history on their Twitter, find something controversial they posted in 2012, write #Cancelled and suddenly they’re the most hated person around.

The debate about if “cancel culture” is ethical is muddy with public-facing figures, but what about the average joe? You shouldn’t do this with your applicants as it will cause you to muddy the waters while screening and increase the chances of lawsuits as you see information regarding protected classes. Social media can lead landlords into searching for information that taps into implicit biases and is based solely on subjective information.

Dirty Tricks

The internet loves to cancel people. It’s incredibly easy to look up a person’s entire history on their Twitter, find something controversial they posted in 2012, write #Cancelled and suddenly they’re the most hated person around.

The debate about if “cancel culture” is ethical is muddy with public-facing figures, but what about the average joe? You shouldn’t do this with your applicants as it will cause you to muddy the waters while screening and increase the chances of lawsuits as you see information regarding protected classes. Social media can lead landlords into searching for information that taps into implicit biases and is based solely on subjective information.

Dirty Tricks

There’s an old story of an expert coming to a business school lecture hall. They stand at the front and ask the students to raise their hand if they think they can tell whether or not they should hire someone based on the first five minutes of an interview.  A good chunk of the class raises their hand, and the expert asks those who did not to look around at all those who raised their hands and take a good long look. The students with their hands in the air look smug, thinking they’ll be lauded for being inherently better than their peers, until the expert speaks again.

There’s an old story of an expert coming to a business school lecture hall. They stand at the front and ask the students to raise their hand if they think they can tell whether or not they should hire someone based on the first five minutes of an interview.  A good chunk of the class raises their hand, and the expert asks those who did not to look around at all those who raised their hands and take a good long look. The students with their hands in the air look smug, thinking they’ll be lauded for being inherently better than their peers, until the expert speaks again.

“Those with the hands in the air are the people who will be fired, sued, tossed in the street and never find another job again,” says the expert. “The only thing you can learn about someone in the first five minutes of meeting them is their protected classes.”

The thing about social media is that you’re never going to learn more than that first five minutes’ worth of information. The same way that one has carefully curated an image to get a job they have carefully curated an image to get likes or perhaps to shell out shoddy shampoo to their friends. There’s plenty of “tricks” people talk about using to pick the perfect person to rent properties to. If you meet them and their car is a mess, then they won’t keep the property clean. If they show up in a suit, then they have a high paying job.  The problem with tricks like that is, that is what they are: tricks.

“Those with the hands in the air are the people who will be fired, sued, tossed in the street and never find another job again,” says the expert. “The only thing you can learn about someone in the first five minutes of meeting them is their protected classes.”

The thing about social media is that you’re never going to learn more than that first five minutes’ worth of information. The same way that one has carefully curated an image to get a job they have carefully curated an image to get likes or perhaps to shell out shoddy shampoo to their friends. There’s plenty of “tricks” people talk about using to pick the perfect person to rent properties to. If you meet them and their car is a mess, then they won’t keep the property clean. If they show up in a suit, then they have a high paying job.  The problem with tricks like that is, that is what they are: tricks.

You do not know if they’re a surgeon: they have to be so neat at work they don’t worry (or have the time) to keep their car clean. Or maybe they have children and it’s hard to keep on cleaning up after them. You don’t know if they rented that suit specifically to make a good first impression and they don’t have a job at all. If you start scrolling through people’s social media using tricks to jump to conclusions, you will find it far too easy to find something wrong about a potential renter, which could land you in some hot water when you start falling for implicit biases.

You do not know if they’re a surgeon: they have to be so neat at work they don’t worry (or have the time) to keep their car clean. Or maybe they have children and it’s hard to keep on cleaning up after them. You don’t know if they rented that suit specifically to make a good first impression and they don’t have a job at all. If you start scrolling through people’s social media using tricks to jump to conclusions, you will find it far too easy to find something wrong about a potential renter, which could land you in some hot water when you start falling for implicit biases.

Implicit Biases

Let’s go with an obvious “trick” people use: unkempt hair styles. Say someone posts a selfie in the middle of a Wednesday and their hairstyle isn’t quite “professional”. For some people, curly hair is not considered professional, no matter how naturally curly one’s hair is. That’s because of a bias that was built into the professional world that people have to work to overcome, and if one is not actively doing that work, then your implicit bias is going to work against you.

Implicit biases are feelings or attitudes one has or associates towards groups of people, such as stereotypes, without always knowing that they are doing so. Instead of using objective data like a proper screening report, by going through someone’s social media profile, one falls into the trap of implicit biases. That’s where that Wednesday selfie can get you into the danger of blaming stereotypes.

Implicit Biases

Let’s go with an obvious “trick” people use: unkempt hair styles. Say someone posts a selfie in the middle of a Wednesday and their hairstyle isn’t quite “professional”. For some people, curly hair is not considered professional, no matter how naturally curly one’s hair is. That’s because of a bias that was built into the professional world that people have to work to overcome, and if one is not actively doing that work, then your implicit bias is going to work against you.

Implicit biases are feelings or attitudes one has or associates towards groups of people, such as stereotypes, without always knowing that they are doing so. Instead of using objective data like a proper screening report, by going through someone’s social media profile, one falls into the trap of implicit biases. That’s where that Wednesday selfie can get you into the danger of blaming stereotypes.

Keep it Rational

Rational, objective data is industry standard for a reason. While there are laws in place that restrict criminal and eviction record access, there are also laws that defend that right. Social media is still the wild west legally and there aren’t any protections in place that could defend your use of it. Once you have seen a social media page from an applicant you have muddied the water. You’ve seen the protected classes, you’ve made a decision that can be said is based on that, and if you’ve denied them, a case can be made against you.

Keep it Rational

Rational, objective data is industry standard for a reason. While there are laws in place that restrict criminal and eviction record access, there are also laws that defend that right. Social media is still the wild west legally and there aren’t any protections in place that could defend your use of it. Once you have seen a social media page from an applicant you have muddied the water. You’ve seen the protected classes, you’ve made a decision that can be said is based on that, and if you’ve denied them, a case can be made against you.

A strong defense against potential business risks and risks to your property is still objective, criminal and eviction public records and credit. This information isn’t based off of subjective looks or likes, it’s based off of financial records, criminal convictions, and court records. While it’s tempting to see what they’ve been posting on Twitter to see what ‘kind’ of person that might get rented to, keep in mind that what goes on social media is always a façade anyway. Rationally speaking, you know that people always post one of two things: the very best of who they are, or the very desperate for attention. Rationally speaking, that isn’t what you need to know about them anyway. The only thing you need to know about them can be found in an objective, informative, high quality criminal and eviction report.

 

A strong defense against potential business risks and risks to your property is still objective, criminal and eviction public records and credit. This information isn’t based off of subjective looks or likes, it’s based off of financial records, criminal convictions, and court records. While it’s tempting to see what they’ve been posting on Twitter to see what ‘kind’ of person that might get rented to, keep in mind that what goes on social media is always a façade anyway. Rationally speaking, you know that people always post one of two things: the very best of who they are, or the very desperate for attention. Rationally speaking, that isn’t what you need to know about them anyway. The only thing you need to know about them can be found in an objective, informative, high quality criminal and eviction report.

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Tenant Screening

New California Tenant Screening Bill Was Just Passed into Law – Here’s What It Means for Landlords and Renters

A new year comes with a multitude of new things, and the rental housing industry is no exception. With the passing of California’s Assembly Bill No. 2559, effective January 1st, 2023, an existing consumer report ordered on a prospective tenant by the landlord whose property they’re applying to rent can now be redefined as a reusable tenant screening report. So, what exactly does this mean?
Simply put, an applicant’s report can be reused for the application process within 30 days of purchasing. The furnished report must comply with all state and federal laws pertaining to the use and disclosure of information used in the tenant screening process and must include all specified information as outlined, including, but not limited to: full legal name, verification of employment/income, previous addresses and last known address, the results of a housing record history check (consistent to applicable law), any records that may exist of the applicant’s criminal history, etc.
The benefits of reusable tenant screening reports are not one-sided.
• First and foremost, the acceptance of a reusable tenant screening report by the landlord is entirely optional, and the landlord must be opted in if proceeding with a reusable tenant screening report. Opting in is not a requirement for the tenant screening process.
• Use of a reusable tenant screening report expedites the tenant screening and application process if the applicant is applying to multiple properties and mitigates the expense of the tenant paying multiple fees per property applied for.
• While the initial cost of obtaining the report from a consumer reporting agency is at the request and expense of the applicant, the option for reuse comes at no additional cost to the landlord or applicant, and the landlord is prohibited from charging an application fee to access or view the report.
• The 30-day reuse period allows for the most up-to-date and current information on the applicant if the timeframe is exceeded while the applicant is still applying to properties. This also gives agency and incentive to the applicant to complete the process in a timely manner.
• Reusable tenant screening reports must still contain all prescribed information required for the application, the same as any consumer report ordered for the purposes of renting a property.
• For convenience, reusable tenant screening reports can be ordered and provided through third-party screening providers such as ApplyConnect, which regularly engages in the business of providing a reusable tenant screening report. Doing so will also include propriety parameters each third-party provider includes in their screening process; for instance, shared reports you receive from ApplyConnect will also include ApplyConnect’s SAFE Screen review customized to your address.

While the list of pros is substantial, existing landlords considering proceeding with reusable tenant screening reports may be wondering – “Are there any cons I should be aware of before opting in and accepting a report this way? And what should I be prepared for?”
Like any bill newly signed into law, any inadvertent effects of AB 2559 remain to be seen. For instance, one could ascertain that a byproduct of prohibiting the charge of additional fees by a landlord who traditionally imposes an application/processing fee to cover any additional expenses other than the cost of obtaining the report means forfeiting the landlord’s autonomy to impose such a fee, and that additional cash flow as well. Landlords who opt in will need to amend their screening process to remove said fees.
Section F of the bill also asserts that if an ordinance, resolution, regulation, administrative action, initiative, or other policy adopted by a city, county, or city and county conflicts with this section, the policy that provides greater protections to applicants shall apply. In some cities and counties, these local laws can prohibit rental owners from considering their applicant’s criminal report, even if it’s on a reusable report. Landlords will also have to accept different formats of the report, as not all screening companies were created the same – one might source their data differently than another with different accuracy rates, primarily use FICO instead of VantageScore in credit reporting and vice versa, etc.
As more landlords and property managers accept reusable tenant screening reports, we’ll be able to see more definitively how and if that changes the leasing process in California. While the provisions in AB 2559 are optional now, it’s important to keep your eyes peeled for legislation that could aim to make it required.

Read More »
Tenant Screening

Can Your Tenant Legally Own An Alligator As An Emotional Support Animal?

When you think of an emotional support animal, what comes to mind? It would be fair to assume the first thought to enter one’s head would be a dog, if not some kind of bipedal mammal — and most likely not a reptilian carnivore with razor-sharp teeth.

In enters WallyGator: a five-and-a-half foot, 70-pound TikTok famous alligator with over 72,600 followers on the platform owned by Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native Joie Henney. While it is legal to own alligators in Philadelphia, that isn’t the case in many other states — nor is it likely that the majority of pet gators, if any, qualify as emotional support animals. Or is it?

Since Wally’s uptick in popularity on the internet back in August, “alligators” as a related topic to the Google search query “emotional support animal” has seen a 300% increase in search frequency, most likely for the purposes of curious internet users seeing and reading about WallyGator for themselves. However, with the increase in popularity of keeping various species of reptiles as house pets and the common need for emotional support animals, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that people with legitimate mental health conditions, unique cases of PTSD, or related conditions could be looking into obtaining a support gator of their own.

As we’ve previously covered, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided guidance on how the Fair Housing Act (FHA) interfaces with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regarding emotional support animals. HUD classifies assistance animals into two different categories in order to distinguish their roles from one another: service animals (primarily dogs), and other trained animals that do work, perform tasks, and/or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities. Per HUD’s guidelines, because Wally is not a dog, he, therefore, cannot qualify as a service animal – so, how does HUD define Wally and his role, exactly?

HUD states if the service animal status is not readily apparent, to limit inquiries to two questions: “Is the animal required because of a disability?” and “What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?”, and if the answer to either question is no, then following denial of service animal status under federal, HUD states that the animal can still qualify as a support animal or other assistance animal, depending on what needs to be accommodated.

In Wally’s case, Henney received approval to use him as a support animal after expressing to his doctor he did not want to be medicated for depression following the deaths of several family members and close friends in a short period of time, and more recently, his untimely cancer diagnosis. Even before rescuing and adopting Wally, Henney has worked with and rescued reptiles (particularly alligators) for over thirty years, and his vocation is one he is very passionate about – so it stands to reason his support animal of choice would be one he’s so accustomed to working with.

Because the ADA makes the same distinction that an emotional support animal would only be classified as such due to its mere presence providing comfort as opposed to employing any training to respond to a situation, HUD’s guidelines technically, but clearly grant Wally his status as a legitimate emotional support animal under federal law.

While Wally’s status is protected in the eyes of the law, HUD also states that a housing provider can refuse a reasonable accommodation request for a support or assistance animal if said animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or would result in substantial physical damage to the property of other which cannot be reduced or eliminated. However, before denying such a request due to a lack of information, a housing provider is encouraged to engage in a “good-faith” conversation with the owner of the support animal to gather information about the animal and mitigate any potential misunderstandings regarding its purpose.

Luckily for most property owners, WallyGator is very much an anomaly, and most folks aren’t scrambling to obtain an emotional support gator of their very own, anyway. Henney himself calls Wally a “very special gator” (he’s trained Wally to understand commands and to keep his mouth closed around other people) and actively discourages others to adopt a pet alligator if they’re not actively predisposed to working with alligators, stating “if you don’t know what you’re doing, you will get bit”.

Check out ApplyConnect’s HUD guidance breakdown: https://www.applyconnect.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Emotional-support-animals_-HUDs-Guidance-cliff-notes-AC-Version.pdf

Read More »

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Tenant Screening

New California Tenant Screening Bill Was Just Passed into Law – Here’s What It Means for Landlords and Renters

A new year comes with a multitude of new things, and the rental housing industry is no exception. With the passing of California’s Assembly Bill No. 2559, effective January 1st, 2023, an existing consumer report ordered on a prospective tenant by the landlord whose property they’re applying to rent can now be redefined as a reusable tenant screening report. So, what exactly does this mean?
Simply put, an applicant’s report can be reused for the application process within 30 days of purchasing. The furnished report must comply with all state and federal laws pertaining to the use and disclosure of information used in the tenant screening process and must include all specified information as outlined, including, but not limited to: full legal name, verification of employment/income, previous addresses and last known address, the results of a housing record history check (consistent to applicable law), any records that may exist of the applicant’s criminal history, etc.
The benefits of reusable tenant screening reports are not one-sided.
• First and foremost, the acceptance of a reusable tenant screening report by the landlord is entirely optional, and the landlord must be opted in if proceeding with a reusable tenant screening report. Opting in is not a requirement for the tenant screening process.
• Use of a reusable tenant screening report expedites the tenant screening and application process if the applicant is applying to multiple properties and mitigates the expense of the tenant paying multiple fees per property applied for.
• While the initial cost of obtaining the report from a consumer reporting agency is at the request and expense of the applicant, the option for reuse comes at no additional cost to the landlord or applicant, and the landlord is prohibited from charging an application fee to access or view the report.
• The 30-day reuse period allows for the most up-to-date and current information on the applicant if the timeframe is exceeded while the applicant is still applying to properties. This also gives agency and incentive to the applicant to complete the process in a timely manner.
• Reusable tenant screening reports must still contain all prescribed information required for the application, the same as any consumer report ordered for the purposes of renting a property.
• For convenience, reusable tenant screening reports can be ordered and provided through third-party screening providers such as ApplyConnect, which regularly engages in the business of providing a reusable tenant screening report. Doing so will also include propriety parameters each third-party provider includes in their screening process; for instance, shared reports you receive from ApplyConnect will also include ApplyConnect’s SAFE Screen review customized to your address.

While the list of pros is substantial, existing landlords considering proceeding with reusable tenant screening reports may be wondering – “Are there any cons I should be aware of before opting in and accepting a report this way? And what should I be prepared for?”
Like any bill newly signed into law, any inadvertent effects of AB 2559 remain to be seen. For instance, one could ascertain that a byproduct of prohibiting the charge of additional fees by a landlord who traditionally imposes an application/processing fee to cover any additional expenses other than the cost of obtaining the report means forfeiting the landlord’s autonomy to impose such a fee, and that additional cash flow as well. Landlords who opt in will need to amend their screening process to remove said fees.
Section F of the bill also asserts that if an ordinance, resolution, regulation, administrative action, initiative, or other policy adopted by a city, county, or city and county conflicts with this section, the policy that provides greater protections to applicants shall apply. In some cities and counties, these local laws can prohibit rental owners from considering their applicant’s criminal report, even if it’s on a reusable report. Landlords will also have to accept different formats of the report, as not all screening companies were created the same – one might source their data differently than another with different accuracy rates, primarily use FICO instead of VantageScore in credit reporting and vice versa, etc.
As more landlords and property managers accept reusable tenant screening reports, we’ll be able to see more definitively how and if that changes the leasing process in California. While the provisions in AB 2559 are optional now, it’s important to keep your eyes peeled for legislation that could aim to make it required.

Read More »
Tenant Screening

Can Your Tenant Legally Own An Alligator As An Emotional Support Animal?

When you think of an emotional support animal, what comes to mind? It would be fair to assume the first thought to enter one’s head would be a dog, if not some kind of bipedal mammal — and most likely not a reptilian carnivore with razor-sharp teeth.

In enters WallyGator: a five-and-a-half foot, 70-pound TikTok famous alligator with over 72,600 followers on the platform owned by Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native Joie Henney. While it is legal to own alligators in Philadelphia, that isn’t the case in many other states — nor is it likely that the majority of pet gators, if any, qualify as emotional support animals. Or is it?

Since Wally’s uptick in popularity on the internet back in August, “alligators” as a related topic to the Google search query “emotional support animal” has seen a 300% increase in search frequency, most likely for the purposes of curious internet users seeing and reading about WallyGator for themselves. However, with the increase in popularity of keeping various species of reptiles as house pets and the common need for emotional support animals, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that people with legitimate mental health conditions, unique cases of PTSD, or related conditions could be looking into obtaining a support gator of their own.

As we’ve previously covered, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided guidance on how the Fair Housing Act (FHA) interfaces with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regarding emotional support animals. HUD classifies assistance animals into two different categories in order to distinguish their roles from one another: service animals (primarily dogs), and other trained animals that do work, perform tasks, and/or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities. Per HUD’s guidelines, because Wally is not a dog, he, therefore, cannot qualify as a service animal – so, how does HUD define Wally and his role, exactly?

HUD states if the service animal status is not readily apparent, to limit inquiries to two questions: “Is the animal required because of a disability?” and “What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?”, and if the answer to either question is no, then following denial of service animal status under federal, HUD states that the animal can still qualify as a support animal or other assistance animal, depending on what needs to be accommodated.

In Wally’s case, Henney received approval to use him as a support animal after expressing to his doctor he did not want to be medicated for depression following the deaths of several family members and close friends in a short period of time, and more recently, his untimely cancer diagnosis. Even before rescuing and adopting Wally, Henney has worked with and rescued reptiles (particularly alligators) for over thirty years, and his vocation is one he is very passionate about – so it stands to reason his support animal of choice would be one he’s so accustomed to working with.

Because the ADA makes the same distinction that an emotional support animal would only be classified as such due to its mere presence providing comfort as opposed to employing any training to respond to a situation, HUD’s guidelines technically, but clearly grant Wally his status as a legitimate emotional support animal under federal law.

While Wally’s status is protected in the eyes of the law, HUD also states that a housing provider can refuse a reasonable accommodation request for a support or assistance animal if said animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or would result in substantial physical damage to the property of other which cannot be reduced or eliminated. However, before denying such a request due to a lack of information, a housing provider is encouraged to engage in a “good-faith” conversation with the owner of the support animal to gather information about the animal and mitigate any potential misunderstandings regarding its purpose.

Luckily for most property owners, WallyGator is very much an anomaly, and most folks aren’t scrambling to obtain an emotional support gator of their very own, anyway. Henney himself calls Wally a “very special gator” (he’s trained Wally to understand commands and to keep his mouth closed around other people) and actively discourages others to adopt a pet alligator if they’re not actively predisposed to working with alligators, stating “if you don’t know what you’re doing, you will get bit”.

Check out ApplyConnect’s HUD guidance breakdown: https://www.applyconnect.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Emotional-support-animals_-HUDs-Guidance-cliff-notes-AC-Version.pdf

Read More »

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Get Started with ApplyConnect!

The nation’s most trusted tenant screening for real estate agents, landlords, and property managers. No cost background checks available 24/7.

©2018 ApplyConnect. All rights reserved

ApplyConnect marks used herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of applyconnect.com. Other product and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.