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?
- 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.
- Be sure that you are consistent in whatever process there is at your community for folks to be able to rent to you.
- 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!