News / Vancouver

Dear YVR landlord: when did you get so creepy?

Landlords are crossing the line when it comes to collecting personal information and asking probing questions, say renters

Cass Sclauzero decided not to apply for an apartment after learning the landlord required three month worth of bank statements. Vancouver tenants complain that landlords often ask for sensitive information like social insurance numbers and date of birth – information B.C.'s Office of Information and Privacy says they shouldn't be collecting.

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Cass Sclauzero decided not to apply for an apartment after learning the landlord required three month worth of bank statements. Vancouver tenants complain that landlords often ask for sensitive information like social insurance numbers and date of birth – information B.C.'s Office of Information and Privacy says they shouldn't be collecting.

Vancouver’s extremely low vacancy rate has enabled some landlords to get very picky about who they rent to — and the probing questions and demands for personal information are now raising privacy concerns.

When searching for an apartment a year and a half ago, Cass Sclauzero encountered a property management company who asked for three month’s worth of bank statements as part of the rental application process. She and her partner decided they weren’t comfortable giving that kind of information, and passed on the apartment.

“If you refuse, you don’t get the apartment,” Sclauzero said. “It’s a Catch-22.”

During her recent search for an apartment in South Surrey, Tannis Sullivan encountered several prospective landlords who asked for her social insurance number, driver’s licence, and date of birth.

“They could easily steal your identity,” Sullivan said. “Not even an employer is allowed to ask you to confirm this information.”

Some of the interviews she had with potential landlords also made her very uncomfortable.

“The kind of questions prospective landlords were asking were very probing, very invasive,” Sullivan said. 

“I had one prospective landlord say to me, are you a single woman?” When Sullivan said yes, “He said, ‘I wouldn’t want the neighbours complaining that there’s another man coming to your house every week.’”

She passed on one apartment because the landlord wanted her to sign a tenancy agreement that would have required her to ask permission whenever she had a friend or relative stay overnight.

The experience was very different from what she recalls from looking for an apartment 20 years ago: “I remember it was so much easier,” she said. “Landlords were never so crazy.”

Then there are the demands some landlords feel they can make on tenants. One notorious Craiglist listing from late September asked for a tenant who doesn’t cook, because the landlords are vegetarians who don’t like the smell of meat — and whose “ideal tenant” is someone who rarely has friends over, “works lots” and is “barely home.”

 “You can’t cook food? You have to be a certain kind of tenant…you have to pay this much money for this (crappy) basement (suite), but not be around very much?” said Sclauzero, who featured the post on her @dearYVRlandlord Twitter account. “I don’t think so.”

According to B.C.’s Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner, landlords are not supposed to ask for social insurance numbers, driver’s licences, or banking information. (Read the full guidelines here.) They can ask for a credit check or for information that confirms income — but the tenant has the right to remove information like the SIN from pay-slips or T-4 documents.

Landlords are encouraged to verify a tenant’s identity before renting to them, and can ask to view a driver’s licence as part of that identity check. But they’re not supposed to copy the licence or write down the number, according to OIPC guidelines.

Both Sclauzero and Sullivan were searching for new apartments because they had been evicted after their landlords wanted to use the suites for family use; both are sceptical that family members actually moved in.

“To be evicted… and then to have to deal with the low tenancy rate and prospective landlords asking all this very, very personal information, “ Sullivan said, “and then exploiting their position to demand everything, anything — (it’s) controlling behaviour in every respect.”

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