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Landlords are collecting too much personal info on renters: privacy commissioner

WATCH: B.C's acting Privacy Commissioner says some landlords are asking for far too much personal information from prospective tenants, and he wants the rules changed to prevent it. Jill Bennett reports.

B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner is recommending a limit on the amount of personal information that’s required on rental applications.

Where personal info is required, the specific purpose should be clearly stated, the commissioner said in a report released Thursday.

LISTEN: Landlord BC CEO joins Simi Sara to talk about the report

“Near zero vacancy rates across the province have created a competitive market where landlords can ask prospective tenants for sensitive personal information as justification for seeking the ‘best’ tenant,” Acting B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Drew McArthur said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, many applicants feel they have no choice but to provide this information to avoid missing out on a place to live.”

Coverage of Vancouver rentals on Globalnews.ca:

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The report contains a number of recommendations, including that credit checks only be required only when a prospective tenant cannot provide sufficient references about previous tenancies or satisfactory employment and income verification.

The privacy commissioner also wants a ban on landlords collecting information from social media platforms or internet search engines.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver landlords wield tenancy laws more often than their renters do: study

The investigation looked into the personal information that was collected by 13 landlords from prospective tenants during the application process.

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

“Low vacancy rates may prompt landlords to believe they can collect whatever information they want from prospective tenants,” McArthur said.

“In some cases, landlords required applicants to provide months’ worth of detailed bank statements, or for consent to conduct a credit check, or for information protected by the Human Rights Code, such as marital status.

“In most instances, requiring this type of information would violate B.C. privacy laws.”

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The report details when personal information is always, sometimes and never authorized to be collected under the act.

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Landlords are always allowed to collect information that clearly relates to the purpose of assessing prospective tenants, such as references and contact information.

Here’s a summary of what’s authorized, and what’s not:

But sometimes, that information can include a prospective tenant’s age, proof of income/employment and credit history information/credit score.

The authority to collect this information depends on the context and whether the information that can always be collected is lacking or unavailable.

Some personal information can almost never be collected as it is too sensitive or unrelated to the purpose of collection.

This includes information protected under the Human Rights Code and whether the prospective tenant is a smoker.

This also includes marital status, credit card numbers and an applicant’s banking history.

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