Personal data security dangers with paper rental applications

 

Personal data security dangers with paper rental applications
Your personal data is at risk with paper rental applications

In my last post I discussed the fair housing compliance issues associated with paper applications. In this post we will look at applicant personal data security dangers with paper rental applications and how to keep applicant data secure.

Best practices in screening rental applicants require detailed personal information. You can check out this post to get a good explanation of why this data is important when assessing rental applicants.  http://www.kimberlyhowell.com/renters-landlords/why-does-a-rental-application-require-so-much-personal-info/

According to the FBI, identity theft is the fasted growing white-collar crime in America.

Believe it or not there are still many real estate agents, property managers and landlords that use paper rental application.

There are 2 variations of these

1) An actual paper application that is handed out at the location or available on line and then downloaded to be completed. The completed application is then hand-delivered, emailed or even faxed back to the office.

2) An online fillable pdf.

Both present serious security problems as they are ultimately printed out to be viewed and distributed.

A paper application contains the applicant’s name, date of birth, current address and social security number.  I have also seen credit card information on an application

This is everything an identity thief needs to wreak havoc with an individual’s ID.

Paper applications are not easy to keep secure and away from prying eyes. I have seen them laying out in the open at many offices. These offices typically have a steady stream of people regularly visiting them. There are also cleaning and maintenance people that could access them, especially when the offices are closed and no one else is around.

Fillable, on-line pdfs present an additional security problem when there are multiple applicants. Many times the co-applicants are required to complete the same application as the primary applicant on the same form. The primary applicant will complete his/hers then the co-applicant will continue with the same application. This allows the co-applicant to see all of the primary applicant’s personal information. This is a cause for concern when the applicants don’t know each other all that well.

The solution to resolving these issues associated personal data security dangers with paper rental applications is to use a secure on-line application program.

Make sure it has the following features-

–  Individual applications (that can then be combined for review) for each applicant.

–  The ability to capture an SSN for screening purposes, but not make it visible to anyone after it is entered.

–  Access by permission only. If more than one person needs to review the application, each needs to have their own log on credentials.

Paper applications are obsolete and provide a tempting target for identity thieves. Many of the personal data security dangers with paper rental applications can be greatly reduced by using a reputable on-line rental application and background screening service provider.

Are you still using paper rental applications? – You really need to stop.

There are a number of very valid reasons why paper rental applications can adversely affect your business.

  • Fair Housing compliance issues
  • Information security concerns
  • Redundant data entry
  • Negative impressions

I will address each reason in separate posts.  In this post I will look at  potential Fair Housing compliance issues with paper applications.

The Fair Housing Act was enacted to protect rental applicants and tenants from discrimination and bias by a landlord or real estate agent.  The law which is very comprehensive and among other things, prohibits property owners and landlords from:

  • Refusing to sell or rent out a house based on the race, religion, color, gender or nationality of the tenant
  • Having different terms and conditions for different applicants based on the race, religion or nationality of the tenant for the rental or sale agreement
  • Promoting or advertising the rental with a section that seeks a specified  preferred gender, race or nationals to apply

Please note that Fair Housing laws can vary by state and even municipality. This post is not intended to provide legal advice. If you have any questions about the fair housing laws in your area, please check with an attorney or the proper authorities.

According to Ron Leshnower, who is an attorney, and Founder and President of Fair Housing Helper,  addressed the question – “Do I Have to Accept Applicants in the Order they Applied?”

His answer is “no,” but adds that “…you might want to because accepting applicants out of order, though not illegal, could give the impression of discrimination and may cause legal problems for you.”

Penalties for violating the Fair Housing Act can be very severe. Violations are typically investigated weeks or even months after they are reported. It is incumbent on the landlord or real estate agent to provide documentation that the violations did not occur.

Paper rental application makes compliant rental documentation next to impossible for the following reasons.

Many landlords and real estate agents that do use paper applications can tell you that they regularly receive applications that are missing information. While they are trying track down the applicants to get the information, they are getting new applications for that property.

Landlords can appear to be discouraging potential tenants from applying to their properties or steering them to another property when they select an application from someone who has provided a completed application after a partially completed application was submitted.

This can be considered a violation of the anti-discriminatory housing laws.

Even when the landlord does follow the rules, rejected applicants can claim, rightly or wrongly, that they were turned down due to race, ethnicity or any other of the protected classes. As indicated, the burden is on the landlord to show the first qualified applicant was accepted, which can be very difficult with a paper application months after the fact.

With properly designed online applications, you get two benefits to help keep you compliant with Fair Housing regulations –

  • The application cannot be submitted unless it is complete.
  • Successfully submitted applications are date and time stamped.

Assuming you are complying with Fair Housing rules and consistent with your application process for each applicant, an online application provides you with documentation should a complaint arise.

 

Ignore at Your Own Peril

In a previous post I wrote about the 4 critical steps you need to take when considering rental applicants. They are –

  1. Pre-screen your tenants by clearly communicating your residency standards
  2. Require complete applications, have each co-applicant complete their own individual application and collect an application fee
  3. Conduct a comprehensive background screening for every applicant and co-applicant 18 years or older that includes credit, criminal and eviction results
  4. Make sure the applicant’s ID is properly verified. Is the applicant who they say they are?

However, going through all the effort to properly screen an applicant is useless if you don’t pay attention to the results.

Here is a story from Tina who didn’t pay attentions to the screening report results.

“This new applicant was a nice guy and has a sweet dog, but I am never going to forgo the Tenant Magic approval again after what happened with my last tenant. I had her complete the application and go through the screening program, the recommendation was to refuse the applicant, and boy do I wish I had listened.  What a worthless nightmare she turned out to be.  Thanks for your help.  We’ll see what he does.”

This a great example of being able to learn a valuable lesson from the (easily avoidable) mistake of someone else.