Should You Use Social Media to Screen Tenants?

Landlords and property managers are using social media for many reasons, including resident retention. You might stay in touch and communicate with tenants using your Twitter and Facebook business accounts, posting useful information about upcoming maintenance and repairs, links to useful websites, and reminders.

But have you considered using a social media review as part of your tenant screening process? Social media can provide all sorts of useful information about potential tenants, and can be particularly useful for confirming information on their rental applications. However, you do need to use it appropriately. Here are some important points to remember:

Potential tenants may accuse you of violating their privacy if they find out you did a little social media research. However, if their accounts are public, you are allowed to look at them. Just make sure that if you do a social media review for one tenant, you do it for all.
Sometimes what you read on the Internet isn’t true–shocking, we know. Remember that some people have a “social media persona” (remember Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend?) which does not reflect accurately how they would be as tenants.
You could be exposing yourself to fair housing complaints if your research reveals your potential tenants or their family and associates are members of a protected class and you don’t offer them the rental unit. However, if your reasons for selecting different tenants are fair, nondiscriminatory, and well-documented, and you applied your screening requirements uniformly, you should be protected. Some experts suggest hiring a third party for social media research to filter out the information you shouldn’t be considering. Remember that in your state there might be additional protected classes to consider.
Once you learn something about a potential renter, you can’t unlearn or unsee it. You may disagree with a person’s political beliefs or life choices that have nothing to do with whether or not they will be a good renter, so think about whether you’ll be affected by that information.
Have you used social media to pre-screen potential tenants? Do you have any advice or words of warning?

As always, the information provided here is just that–it is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have any particular questions or issues, please consult an attorney.

By Tracey March