The rental company I work for is thinking about requiring all applicants to have a social security number and not accepting TIN’s. I’m concerned about potential Fair Housing issues (national origin). Could you please advise on if there would be an issue?
Hello, Brenda, and thank you for your question. I will remind you that my input is not legal advice – first because it isn’t (!) and secondly because fair housing teachers and lawyers are split pretty well down the middle on this issue. So on which side of the divide does Fair Housing Lady stand? On the side that suggests that there is some level of risk in requiring an SSN in order to qualify to rent. And now I should offer my rationale (I can be rational!):
1. As you pointed out, the SSN issue is tied to the protected class of national origin (because all US born citizens have an SSN but folks from other countries, even if here legally, may not – international students for example). Thus the “neutral” policy of requiring SSNs of all applicants will statistically impact those from other countries. This is called a “disparate impact”.
2. Fair housing advocates and HUD are pushing for the courts to recognize “disparate impact” as a civil rights violation under the Fair Housing Act.
3. Landlords like to check credit (that is legal and makes good business sense); however, an SSN is not needed to check credit (no, it is not).
4. Landlords like to check criminal background (at the moment that is legal, although that might not be the case in the near future – and we will hear lots of squealing about that; and it makes good business sense); however, an SSN is not needed to check criminal background (no, it is not).
5. So if any applicant does not have an SSN a landlord can still get the information on that applicant with an SSN.
6. If the landlord/tenant act in your State does not preclude such, consider a Plan B. Something along the lines of this non-legal advice language: “Should any applicant not provide us with an SSN, the security deposit required for that applicant if he otherwise qualifies to rent shall be at two times the amount required of those qualified applicants who do provide an SSN”. This provides the landlord with some extra financial protection in the case of lease default and provides the applicant with an enhanced opportunity to rent, notwithstanding that he may not “be from around these parts”.
It is an interesting fair housing matter; perhaps someday there will be a case that provides some measure of clarity. Let’s just hope that it is not your case!
About Nadeen Green: Nadeen Green has been an attorney since 1979. She has taught Fair Housing law to the multi-family housing industry since the Fair Housing Amendments Act when into effect in 1989. She has been asked to speak numerous times for the National Apartment Association and the Multi-Housing World annual conventions. Her reader-friendly articles on Fair Housing appear regularly in industry publications.
Nadeen is proud to be Senior Counsel with For Rent Media Solutions, which offers print and online advertising products for all communities, whether through For Rent Magazine®, ForRent.com, Para Rentar, Senior Outlook, After 55, or specialized publications for condominiums and student housing.View author profile.
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