Social media has made the world more connected than ever. It is easy to feel like we know someone immediately after swiping through his or her profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and the list goes on and on. With one click of the button, we can often find out someone’s ethnicity, marital status, religious affiliation, job history, interest in travel, and political ideology. As an owner looking to rent out a property, it is natural to want to gather as much information as you can to guarantee that you can trust this person with your property. If you are thinking of using social media to screen tenants, here are a few things you must first consider:
What are you screening for?
You may feel tempted to look up your potential tenant on social media right away. After all, isn’t that what you do with new friends? But consider this: you are going to perceive your new friends totally different than you will prospective renters. With new friends, you may give them more room to be who they are because that is what social media allows you to do: be yourself. Sure, you are opening yourself up to be judged no matter what, but you don’t care as much about them. With a tenant, there is too much on the line, so you are more likely to scrutinize the person and find flaws. That is why it is important to step back and think: what am I actually looking for in a tenant? Look for basic non-negotiables, such as an undisclosed pet, cleanliness, smoking habits, or partying habits. These things are objectively important so your property is well-taken care of and complaints are minimized.
Remember that Social Media Can Be Deceiving
The problem with social media is that while it gives opportunity to for people to express themselves, it also gives equal opportunity for people to create personas. If someone runs a Youtube channel, for example, they may aggrandize parts of who they are to target a specific audience, even if that is not who they are in real life. Or, alternatively, perhaps this person is using his or her twitter account to push their comedy, and it may be a sense of humor you don’t find funny or tasteful. Ultimately, the biggest drawback is that you can’t un-see anything you have already seen. Most people carry with them certain biases for or against some ideologies or lifestyles, so as soon you see it, it may be impossible to be objective. You might already know the phrase: ‘Curiosity killed the cat.” Well, that certainly applies here.
Review State Discrimination Laws
If you are feeling unsure, know that some landlords will avoid social media so as to not face allegations of discrimination. Some tenants may find that as an opportunity to declare discrimination against their gender or ideologies. To avoid complaints, it is paramount that you use the law in guiding your process of evaluating applicants. In addition, review the Fair Housing Act. Federal law requires that no discrimination be made against gender, religions, color, race, or disability. For example, if someone has a disability such as PTSD and requires a support animal, you cannot reject them based on your policy against pets (given the pet is legal to own in that state). State laws may be more rigorous, so review policies about more specific policies.
New Social Media Laws
The advent of social media has made some states pass laws against forcing prospective renters from sharing private information. Public information, such as profiles made public, are not restricted. But stay informed. Creating a false profile in order to find information on them can be seen as fraud, as an example.
If you are looking at the social media profile of one candidate, then it is only fair to check every other candidate’s social media profile. It is not a violation of privacy to do so if his or her account is public. After all, they do have the freedom to post almost anything they want of their own volition. It will also allow you to be more objective in your approach. Although finding information on social media can be useful, when in doubt reconsider it altogether and do a simple security screening process through a site like www.mysmartmove.com.