Landlords getting too personal, says B.C. privacy commissioner

An investigation by the office of the B.C. Privacy Commissioner finds landlords routinely ask for personal information from prospective tenants, which is often a violation of privacy laws.

B.C. Privacy Commissioner investigation finds landlords routinely violate privacy laws

B.C.'s privacy commissioner said some landlords are asking for personal information that violates the Human Rights Code and the B.C.'s privacy laws. (CBC)

B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner says some landlords are going too far when it comes to asking prospective tenants for personal information.

"Low vacancy rates may prompt landlords to believe they can collect whatever information they want," Drew McArthur, acting information and privacy commissioner, said in a statement. 

The office examined personal information collected by 13 landlords during the tenancy application process. 

It released its findings in a report published Thursday. It found in some cases landlords were asking applicants to provide months' worth of detailed bank statements, consent to do a credit check or even ask whether the applicant was single or married, which violates the Human Rights Code.

David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord B.C., said the majority of landlords respect the privacy of tenants and in cases where they don't, it's not malicious, but due to a lack of information.

"I think there is a lot of lack of knowledge, when you don't have knowledge you don't necessarily do the right thing," he said. 

The office is recommending a limit on the amount of personal information that's required on rental applications. 

It recommends if and where personal information is required, the specific purpose of it be clearly stated. 

It is also recommending that credit checks only be required if the applicant can't provide sufficient references or documents relating to employment and income. 

Hutniak believes all landlords should have the right to do soft credit checks, where the applicant's credit score isn't affected.

"It's an accurate piece of financial information that we can use as a landlord to assess the financial liability of this person to pay their rent," he said. 

Hutniak is also opposed to the privacy commissioner's recommendation for landlords to never collect information through social media or internet search engines.

"For us to totally ignore that platform in sort of getting a fuller view of who we are going to provide a home to, I think that needs to be re-thought," said Hutniak. 

Landlords in B.C. are subject to the Personal Information Protection Act.