Dear Fair Housing Lady: Legal Identification

| February 28, 2014 | 2 Comments

IDsDear Fair Housing Lady,

Are there certain types of identification that legally may or may not be requested from an applicant during the application process for conventional housing? For example, may social security cards and birth certificates be required for files of those who apply for conventional housing?

 

Hello, Rachel, and thank you for your question.  I do have some thoughts to share with you (and others who may be following this blog), so with my standard “this is not legal advice” caveat, here are those ideas:
  • Do NOT ask for a Driver’s License.  The appropriate request is for a “government issued photo ID” as you want to know that the person (prospect or applicant) is who they say they are.  Why do you care that they are who they say they are?  First is the safety issue – if you are planning to show apartments to the prospect, it is prudent to have information on who they are and what they look like before you head out to empty apartments for the tour.  And if they decide to apply to be a resident at your community, you want to know that the information you will be considering (credit, income, criminal background, landlord/tenant history, etc.) is  the information for the person you are actually dealing with.  Why not ask for a Driver’s License?  Because people with disabilities cannot always drive, and you do not want them to think for one minute that you are trying to weed them from the application pool by asking for a form of identification that they may not have.
  • Do NOT ask for a Social Security card.  You know the person’s name (because you have seen the government issued photo ID) and you may ask for their Social Security number.  If it is not a valid SSN, you will learn that from the application process, as the name and SSN will not match.  Why not ask for a Social Security card?  Because often folks are not carrying those with them (especially with the identity theft issues of today) and when folks marry or divorce, they don’t always update their Social Security cards at that time.  While this is not necessary a fair housing issue, it just creates more confusion for you and obstacles for people who are considering making your community their home.
  • Do NOT ask for birth certificates at non-senior housing communities.  Why?  Again, many people don’t have them handy and there are often name changes due to life events.  My birth certificate name does not match my name today.
  • However, if you are at a conventional “senior housing” community then DO ASK for birth certificates for all of your leaseholders.  Why is that?  Because your status as “housing for older persons” under the Fair Housing Act is dependent upon your being able to document that your residents’ ages qualify you as a “55+” or “62+” community that is lawfully turning away people with children.  And that documentation must be produced when it is asked for, not at a later date.  You always want to have records that show today the ages of all of your leaseholders.
Two other points:
  1. Be sure that you are consistent in whatever process there is at your community for folks to be able to rent to you.
  2. For every policy or procedure that you have, take a breath, step back, and ask “Why do we do that?”.  You always want to have a good business reason which can easily be explained to any fair housing advocate or investigator.  Note that “my boss said” – “my owner said” – “we have always done this” – “I don’t know why” are not considered good business reasons!
Hopefully this will have given you some needed information, Rachel.  If you need more specifics (or if you disagree with Fair Housing Lady, which has been know to happen), you are welcome to reach back out…

Category: General Fair Housing Information, Property Managers & Owners

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. .

Comments (2)

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  1. Sherrie says:

    I am more curious about the SS card issue. Due to todays technology, we often receive applications from persons via the internet. On many occasions, we have never met the prospect. Our company policy is this: Photo ID is required to tour. Once an application is approved, we require all applicants to bring in their original government ID and social security card. Our explanation to applicants who ask frequently why we ask for the SS card, is that we must verify the social security number of the credit profile that you used to be approved with. Should our policy be something we should revisit? Or is our policy structured ok? And since you will ask, YES, we require the same for ALL applicants, even co-signers. If the two items are not presented-sorry, no move in for you.

    • Nadeen Green says:

      Sherrie, I am happy that you were curious enough to ask me to clarify the Social Security card issue as relates to the particular process at your community. Based on the description of that process, I am fine with your requiring the Social Security card. Why is that? Because you are requiring that after, not before or during, the application process. So this is not a practice that is impacting your decisions regarding application approval (as you pointed out, you asking for the actual Social Security card “once an application is approved”). Additionally, you have articulated a good business reason for seeing a government issued photo ID and a Social Security card at the time of the lease signing; you want to be sure that the persons approved “on paper” are actually the persons signing the lease and moving in to your community. The only caveat to this is that it may be prudent to require not just a Social Security card but alternatively documentation of a TIN – tax identification number. Remember that there are people here in the US legally who are not able to get an SSN, but do have a TIN issued to them for banking and financial reasons. Hope this helps, and if you have more questions or input, reach back out!

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