Everybody has a Facebook page. And an Instagram page, a Twitter account, and half a dozen other social media presences. For landlords, social media has the potential to provide verification of information provided on applications as well as a glimpse into how they might be as tenants. However, it’s also a field full of potential landmine issues with fair housing.
There are important things to remember when using social media to screen tenants.
Start with a solid application process
If you’re not starting with a thorough rental application, a credit check, and a criminal background check go no further. Sites like TurboTenant provide these at no cost to the landlord. Get these things lined up first. Beyond that, have a checklist of uniform criteria and standards you need each tenant to meet. Be very clear about what data you are basing your rental decisions on.
Check the same social sites for every applicant
Every applicant should be treated the same, so check the same sites for each potential renter. There are people who feel that conducting a little social media research is a violation of privacy. But if their accounts are public, that information is fair game to not just you, but potential employers, law enforcement, and grandmothers everywhere.
Be clear on what you’re looking for on social sites, have a list
LinkedIn could be useful as part of the employment verification. Facebook can let you know if a pet exists that wasn’t on the application. And Instagram may potentially help determine how frequently they throw parties that get out of hand. Know what criteria you’re looking for on the sites and stick to it.
Fair methods for selecting tenants are nondiscriminatory, well documented and applied uniformly to protect yourself from fair housing complaints. If your research reveals your potential tenants are members of a protected class and you don’t offer them the rental unit, you could be exposing yourself to fair housing complaints and lawsuits. However, if your reasons for selecting different tenants are fair, nondiscriminatory, well-documented, and you applied your screening requirements uniformly, you should be protected.
The major drawback with adding social media to your tenant screening process is that once you learn something about a potential renter, you can’t unlearn or unsee it. Political season is upon us and more and more people are turning to social media to express opinions and beliefs. You may disagree with a person’s political beliefs, religious beliefs or life choices that have nothing to do with whether or not they will be a good renter. If these kinds of things are going to affect your decisions, you should probably skip out on the social media check altogether.
Screening tenants as thoroughly as possible is simply good business. Social media provides a fuller picture of potential renters than hard data such as credit reports, income and housing history may do alone.