B.C. premier, Green leader met company being probed over controversial renter scanning

Click to play video: 'Horgan and Weaver distancing themselves from renter screening program'
Horgan and Weaver distancing themselves from renter screening program
Premier John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver are distancing themselves from a company behind a controversial new program for screening prospective renters. Paul Johnson reports – Jun 4, 2018

B.C. Premier John Horgan and B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver are distancing themselves from a company that scans renters’ social media after a video showed them learning about the program at a tech industry event.

Certn, a Victoria-based company, has developed a screening platform that helps “property managers and financial institutions identify, assess and manage applications to find the best customers.”

In the case of renters, the software includes a personality test and a scan of their online history — including their social media activity.

WATCH: B.C. landlords use controversial rental personality test to screens tenants

Click to play video: 'B.C. landlords use controversial rental personality test to screen potential tenants'
B.C. landlords use controversial rental personality test to screen potential tenants

“It’s really a way for applicants for tenancy to put their best foot forward.” said Certn’s Andrew McLeod.

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The program now screens tenants for 40,000 rental units in B.C. alone.

It’s also the subject of an investigation by the province’s privacy commissioner, and of criticism by tenants’ rights advocates.

READ MORE: B.C. company that uses personality test to screen tenants also scans social media accounts

“There may be some issues surrounding discrimination,” said Vancouver lawyer Ashley Syer.

Certn has faced controversy over its scanning of social media, which in one case saw a renter denied tenancy over Twitter posts he had issued about U.S. President Donald Trump.

Last week, Horgan and Weaver met with McLeod at a tech event in Victoria, where the premier explained that Certn is “connecting those who have space with those who need space, and there’s additional applications outside of that.”

It doesn’t appear that either Horgan or Weaver knew that the company was under a privacy investigation at the time.

Horgan said Monday that he understood the program was a matchmaking tool.

A statement from his office read as follows:

“In our brief conversation, I understood the program to be a matchmaking tool that helps connect people looking for an apartment with people looking to rent one.

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“The government has clear guidelines on what sort of information can be requested by landlords and keeps a close eye for any inappropriate practices. There is no place for discrimination in access to housing. The privacy rights of renters are protected under B.C. law, and the privacy commissioner made clear this spring that social media cannot be used to screen prospective tenants.

“Our government has taken steps to improve protections for renters including closing the fixed-term lease and geographic increase loopholes, and bringing in new rules regarding renovation and demolition of rental housing. Our rental housing task force will continue to work to strengthen and modernize regulations as part of our plan to improve access to affordable housing for people in B.C.”

Weaver, meanwhile, said he raised concerns about privacy with the company’s reps.

Here’s a statement from the Green leader’s office:

“I briefly encountered this company when joining the premier for a tour of a number of different tech businesses. After hearing a brief, partial explanation of their business, I raised concerns about privacy issues with the company’s representatives.

“Privacy rights are a major issue that all sectors are grappling with due to the rapid pace of technological advancement in our society. I have long called for government to be significantly more proactive in addressing the impacts of technological advancement.

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“That is why we ensured the Emerging Economy Task Force (EETF), an idea proposed in the B.C. Green Party platform, was included in our Confidence and Supply Agreement with the BC NDP. The EETF will advise government on the changes on the horizon so that government can better stay ahead of the curve as innovation takes hold.

“The Rental Housing Task Force, which includes our MLA Adam Olsen, is embarking on a series of public consultations on a wide range of issues effecting landlords and tenants. Privacy concerns should be a part of the task force’s work and recommendations so that British Columbians have better access to affordable housing and that tenants’ right to privacy, along with all other rights, are adequately protected.”

Vancouver’s Brixton Flats building is one of a number of properties that used Certn’s platform up until recently.

Its owner told Global it will be ending their relationship with the company.

  • Video report by Paul Johnson; with files from Jon Azpiri

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