With the recent data breaches by Facebook, personal privacy has become a hot topic. Because landlords deal with tenants’ private spaces on a daily basis, it’s important to be aware of some basic “do’s” and “don’ts” so that a complaint, or, worse yet, a lawsuit, isn’t lodged against you.
The issue is complicated by the fact that privacy rights are quickly evolving. Today’s “grey area” may become tomorrow’s “don’t”. For example, as we write, the ability of a landlord to check out a prospective tenant on social media is being debated.
As it stands now, our position is that if the information is in the public domain, landlords should be able to look – like any other citizen. But we also think that the practice crosses a line if landlords use what they find about a person’s religious or political views, or sexual orientation, for example, to decide not to rent to them.
Over the next couple of years, the privacy rights of tenants will become more clearly defined as cases are heard by the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB), but there are some straightforward rules that you can apply right now.
Eviction notices: If you slide an eviction notice under your tenant’s door, it’s invalid. But you also can’t post it on their door with their name, or the words “eviction notice” visible on the envelope. Instead, you must put the notice in a plain envelope labelled “Occupant” and post it on their door.
Photos and videos: If you’re taking a video or photos of a suite in order to show it for rental, you have to make sure that no personal photos, identification, or even university degrees on a wall, are in those images. Nothing can identify the tenant who currently occupies the suite.
Security cameras: If you install cameras in your building, you have to be careful that they are only being used for security purposes, and not to monitor the comings and goings of your tenants. You may need to put up a notice announcing the presence of cameras.
Investigators: You or your caretaker may be approached by a private investigator, someone from ICBC, the Canada Revenue Agency, Canadian Border Services Agency, or the police. They may ask you – casually – to help them out, to provide them with information about a tenant, or to let them into a suite.
You may want to help. You may feel intimidated. But you should not provide the information, or give them access, unless they have a warrant or other document authorizing them to collect the information.
If a complaint is filed by the tenant, it isn’t the investigator who will be on the hook – it’s you. The investigator will rightfully say, “We just asked, and they told us.” You, on the other hand, will have violated the tenant’s privacy rights and may be in a position where you can be sued.
Well-meaning family members: An even more difficult situation is when a family member asks for access to a suite after an accident or illness that makes it impossible for the tenant to take care of their own affairs. You must have permission from the tenant, or a document such as a Power of Attorney, before you let the family member in.
Call us, we’re residential rental specialists: Want to know more about changes to regulations governing tenants’ privacy? Give us a call, at Transpacific Realty Advisors, we have an entire department dedicated to Residential Rental property management.