Utilizing public data can be a nice compliment to your current tenant screening methods. While it is not advisable in any capacity to solely rely on social media profiles and other public data to make a decision on a tenant, there is some valuable information that can help you along in your process. The main areas of focus are to ensure there is consistency with what the prospect has provided on the application versus what could be on social media as it relates to pets, tenant lifestyle and property damage.
Prior to researching a candidate’s public data or social media profiles, it should be stated that you cannot discriminate and must abide by the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate based on disability, race, gender, color, religion, national origin and family status.
Landlords should also be familiar with any specific state laws as there could be additional criteria that must be met when screening prospective tenants.
Consistency in the process should also be considered. It is good practice to ensure that all prospects are being screened the exact same way. With that in mind, if you are going to search one candidate’s public data, then all prospects should be subject to the same review and documented accordingly.
So what should you be looking for?
First and foremost, if the applicant claims they do not have any pets and are being considered for a property in which pets are not allowed, then social media could be a good resource to determine if there are any inconsistencies in whether or not they have a pet. Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram would be the likely websites to determine if the applicant is taking pictures of their pets (or with their pets).
When it comes to the prospective tenants lifestyle, this is an area that is fairly subjective. However, if the applicant is under the legal drinking age and their social media profiles clearly invoke a lifestyle in which they partake in underage drinking, that is a red flag that is worthy of your attention. The same would apply for any type of signs that would indicate reckless behavior in which property damage would become a concern.
LinkedIn could also be a powerful tool to cross reference employment history. While it should not replace your employment verification process, it is a nice resource to determine if there are any inconsistencies in what was stated on the application.
This is great, but this takes more time? When considering the upfront work it takes to screen a tenant, surveying social media to cross reference and fact find certainly adds an additional layer to the process, especially if you document your findings. However, this process could save time in the end, and help protect the asset by finding the RIGHT tenant which also yields lower turnover.
While public data or social media information should never replace the traditional practices of screening a tenant or violate the guidelines set for in the Fair Housing Act, there are certainly opportunities to use this data to determine if there are any inconsistencies in the information you have already collected while also identifying if there are any red flags with the candidate.