Friday, November 18, 2011 / by Nathan Clark
As with probably most college-aged kids, the young lady has a Facebook account. Recently, her mother told me, she began deleting some posts and pictures from her account and sharing less information. She had done the same thing a year ago, when she was applying to colleges – worried that schools are paying close attention to applicants’ social media presence – and now she’s concerned that content on her page might hurt her chances with respect to securing an apartment lease next year.
Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time I heard of this concern recently. There was an article I saw online about a woman with good income and credit and stellar record as a tenant who was turned down for an apartment. She was pretty sure the landlord had looked at her Facebook page, where people can see that she is a political activist and practices Budhism.
Those things aren’t the same as the college student’s concerns over pictures of college parties or foul language on her page, but the idea is the same. In a society in which it’s estimated that nearly 20 percent of companies research job applicants on social media sites, you can bet that landlords and property managers are checking out prospective tenants online, too.
If you’re a tenant, that might be bad. For example, you might not want to reveal via your social media pages that you have seven cats. You probably don’t want pictures up that show loud, wild parties going on. You shouldn’t list “How to Make Pipe Bombs in Your Kitchen,” among your favorite books.
The flip side of the situation, however, is that landlords cannot discriminate against prospective tenants. And social media sites that might reveal religious or political views, as well as things such as race are being looked at by landlords, but if they are basing decisions not to rent to tenants based on any of those criteria, they are breaking the law.
The problem is, you’d have a tough time proving it. You’d have to have proof that the landlord saw your social media page, as well as proof that what he or she found on the page was the reason you were discriminated against. Fair housing laws are tough, but it would be difficult to prove your case.
Of course, the best way to avoid the situation entirely is to be aware that landlords look online as part of their research, so don’t post things you wouldn’t want any potential landlords – or employers, loan officers, schools, etc. – to see.
And what about the landlords and social media? Well, although it seems really tempting to use social media sites as ways to investigate an applicant, it’s probably better that you don’t.
As you know, there are things you can and can’t ask on housing application. You can determine not to rent to someone based on their credit history, income, criminal past, etc., but, as it says above, you can’t turn someone down because of their race, religious beliefs, gender, disabilities, etc. Questions about those things are, of course, left off rental applications.
But the answers to those questions might very obviously show up on Facebook. And what might happen if you go to an applicant’s social media page and see their race, religion, political views or even sexual orientation? Those are not things you ask in an application, but in viewing the page, you just made that information available to yourself. As it says above, a turned-down tenant would have a difficult case to prove, but if you get the right lawyer and/or fair housing official, and you will at least have a major inconvenience on your hands for a while.
So as tempting as it is to use social media sites to research prospective tenants, it’s probably best if landlords steer clear of them. Whatever you want to know, ask on the application. The rest is better left not knowing.