News / Vancouver

Report landlords who break privacy rules, urges BC agency

Metro Vancouver’s tight rental market leads to an increase in privacy complaints to B.C.’s Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner

Landlords are not supposed to collect sensitive information such as bank statements, social insurance numbers or driver's licences, but tenants report being routinely asked for such information when searching for a place to rent.

Jen St. Denis

Landlords are not supposed to collect sensitive information such as bank statements, social insurance numbers or driver's licences, but tenants report being routinely asked for such information when searching for a place to rent.

B.C.’s Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner handles about one call a day from prospective tenants concerned about landlords collecting sensitive personal information as they apply for apartments.

“We’re aware that in this tight rental market it’s affecting more and more people,” said Bradley Weldon, senior policy analyst for the OIPC.

Earlier this week, Metro reported on the concerns of several Metro Vancouver renters who had experienced potential landlords asking for or collecting bank statements, social insurance numbers, driver’s licence and date of birth — all highly sensitive personal information that the OIPC says landlords should not be collecting.

The stories struck a chord with Nic Pratt, a Vancouver resident who has had similar experiences.

Nic Pratt outside the entrance to the basement suite he rents in East Vancouver. During a recent rental search, he encountered several landlords who asked for personal information they're not supposed to be collecting.

Jen St. Denis

Nic Pratt outside the entrance to the basement suite he rents in East Vancouver. During a recent rental search, he encountered several landlords who asked for personal information they're not supposed to be collecting.

“When we moved in we sat down, we were negotiating our lease and he was like, ‘Can I see your driver’s licence?’ which I knew he was allowed to do,” Pratt recalled a previous landlord asking. “And then he just grabbed them and started photocopying them.”

Landlords are encouraged to verify tenants’ identities before signing a tenancy agreements, so it’s fine for a landlord to check a driver’s licence — but according to OIPC guidelines, landlords shouldn’t be writing down the number or making a photocopy.

In a more recent search for a new apartment, Pratt and his partner encountered numerous landlords — including property managers representing large companies — who would ask for credit card numbers and social insurance numbers on application forms.

Collecting any of that information is in contravention of B.C.’s Personal Information Protection Act, Weldon said. He’d like anyone who encounters this kind of information collection during a rental search to make a complaint to the OIPC (visit www.oipc.bc.ca for more information or view the full privacy guidelines here).

Earlier this week, Vancouver renter Cass Sclauzero shared her story of being asked for three months of bank statements as part of a rental application:

Jen St. Denis

Earlier this week, Vancouver renter Cass Sclauzero shared her story of being asked for three months of bank statements as part of a rental application: "If you refuse, you don’t get the apartment. It’s a Catch-22.”

Taking a photo of the application with your phone, or making a photocopy, would be helpful but isn’t necessary to start the process, he said.

“They don’t have to have collected your information to be in contravention of the act,” Weldon said. “There’s no way that collecting that information, even with consent, is authorized by the act.”

As a first step, the OIPC does ask complainants to make their concern known to the prospective landlords — something Weldon acknowledges might be difficult for tenants to do with Metro Vancouver’s extremely low vacancy rate, where landlords can pick and choose among dozens of applicants.

David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord BC, would like both tenants and landlords to be better informed of their rights and responsibilities. The industry group will be launching a new program in November: for a fee, landlords will be able to be listed on a public landlord registry, provided they have completed a Landlord 101 course and shown they have a good knowledge of the Residential Tenancy Act.

Hutniak acknowledged that the information collection is probably happening out of landlords’ fear they will rent to a bad tenant.

“There are a lot of savvy prospective renters who really understand the act, and we have a long history of these serial abusers who have gotten into a property and many months later, not paid rent and caused many thousands of dollars of damage,” Hutniak said.

But there are other ways to protect yourself, he said: have a very good knowledge of B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Act, do a credit check, ask for references from previous landlords, and remember that you are running a business.

“We take the position that it’s incumbent on landlords to understand the act and know what they can and cannot do,” he said.

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