Is it Private? A Privacy Primer for Landlords

What personal information must residential landlords keep confidential and when?

I often receive questions from landlords asking what information they can request from their tenants and prospective tenants. This issue is becoming even more relevant with the influx of refugees seeking rental accommodation in British Columbia. For the purpose of this article, the term tenants include prospective tenants.

BC Personal Information Protection Act:

The BC Personal Information Protection Act (“PIPA”) governs how landlords collect, use and disclose personal information of their tenants. While PIPA references the term “organization,” this includes a person. Personal information is defined by PIPA as, “information about an identifiable individual and includes employee personal information…” If a tenant feels that their landlord is acting in contravention of PIPA, they can lodge a complaint against the landlord with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OPIC).

Information a Landlord can ask for:

When requesting information from a prospective tenant, a landlord may only request information that is reasonably necessary for the landlord to determine whether or not to rent the property to them. A prospective tenant can refuse to provide personal information if the landlord’s request extends beyond this scope. However, what is reasonably necessary at the time may change and further information may become reasonably necessary during a tenancy. A landlord must have a reasonable purpose for requesting personal information, which must be disclosed to the tenant. A landlord cannot use that information for a reason other than the original purpose unless receiving consent from the tenant.

Consent:

Usually a landlord requires consent from the tenant to collect, use, or disclose the tenant’s personal information. There are some circumstances in which a landlord does not require consent of the tenant. Some situations include:

  • If a statue or regulation requires it;
  • In response to a warrant or subpoena; or
  • To collect a debt;

There are also some situations in which consent is deemed to have been given under PIPA.

Information a Landlord cannot require:

A landlord cannot request consent from a tenant to collect, use, or disclose information beyond what is reasonably necessary, as a condition of renting the property or providing any service. Some of which includes:

  • Credit card information, however if both parties agree to rent being processed by credit card, this information would be given by the tenant to the landlord;
  • Criminal record;
  • Educational background;
  • Driver’s license, however a landlord can request to examine identification to verify a tenant’s identity when entering into a tenancy agreement; and
  • Health card number.

When determining whether information is reasonably necessary, it may also be helpful to consider Section 10 of the BC Human Rights Code (“Code”) which governs discrimination in tenancy premises. Subject to a few exceptions, section 10 of the Code states that a person must not deny a person the right to occupy, as a tenant, space represented as being available or discriminate against a person regarding a term or condition of the tenancy of the space because of a protected ground under the Code. Protected grounds include, “…race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age or lawful source of income of that person or class of persons, or of any other person or class of persons.”

For example, requesting information regarding a person’s religion is not reasonably necessary to determine whether to rent a property to an individual, as not renting a property to somebody based on that information is discriminatory under the Code.

Disclosing information to the tenant:

If a tenant provides a written request to access personal information that the landlord has, the landlord must respond to the request within 30 business days, which can be extended in certain circumstances. A landlord can charge a fee for covering the costs of providing the information to the tenant. The landlord must give the tenant an estimation of the fee before providing the information. When the tenant makes the request, the landlord must also advise the tenant how it was used and if it was disclosed and to whom. It is important to note that there are situations in which the landlord may refuse a tenant’s request for information, situations in which a landlord must refuse a tenant’s request for information, and situations in which information must be severed or blacked out on a document.

Bottom line:

The bottom line is, if the tenant’s personal information is not currently needed, don’t collect it. If you are unsure about your rights under PIPA, you can contact a lawyer or contact the OPIC for more information.