Tenant Screening with No Social Security Number

The Fair Housing Act and Oregon anti-discrimination law apply to everyone present in the United States, regardless of immigration status.

FHCO recognizes the importance of thorough tenant screening. Criminal history information can be acquired without an SSN, and current and past landlords can provide rental history. Applicants may be able to provide other information such as proof of "x" number of recent months’ paid utility bills, rent, or other regular monthly bills that can show a pattern of timely payment.

Individuals who do not qualify for an SSN may often have an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number). This number allows for reporting to the IRS and in some cases for opening other accounts. After having consulted with screening companies and the credit bureaus, it does not appear that this will allow a credit report to be pulled in the same way that an SSN does.

The path we propose, when an applicant has no SSN, is to say “show me what you can” rather than a flat “no”. At that point, your screening company should be able to give you an informed estimate about how much time and money an evaluation could cost. You could then inform the consumer and pass this cost on to them if they wished to continue. Costs may vary.

It is our agency’s position that the refusal to review alternative documentation when a Social Security Number is not available will have a negative and disparate impact on individuals whose national origin is not the United States, thereby having a disparate impact on that protected class.

We see legitimate additional costs of screening as a legitimate business expense that could be passed on to a housing applicant. Please note:This is a change in FHCO’s position over the last few years. There are, at this point, no local or federal cases that we know of to guide us, but we feel our current position is a reasonable balance between consumers’ rights and housing providers’ concerns.

Case law has well established that it is inappropriate and illegal for a housing provider to charge someone to have an assistance animal, or a modification to a guest policy to have a caregiver visit however many days a week, etc. With respect to screening a tenant without SSN, however, we are not talking about a disability modification/accommodation.

Additionally:

We never recommend renters (whether they are immigrants or not) lie or use a false identification number. If applicants provide a fake social security number, they have lied on their application and can be denied on that basis.

Technologies are changing, as are bank and lender policies, and it is important to be open to the opportunities that this may present for improved screening of individuals without SSNs. A presumption that persons without a social security number cannot use a bank or get certain loans or credit cards is incorrect. There are both large national banks and smaller community credit unions that work with these individuals. Additionally, individuals without a Social Security number are able to request a copy of their own credit report through Experian (one of three main credit bureaus). Experian will attempt to use data points such as name, date of birth, current and last addresses, and any transactions with an ITIN, to provide the individual with a report. The individual can then present that report to a prospective landlord.

Housing providers need to be careful, too, of assumptions about household make-up based on race or national origin. If a landlord has a problem with residents who do not comply with the rental contract, they can deal with that appropriately under landlord/tenant law. Landlords should not assume “certain kinds of people” have larger or extended families and base their rental decisions on that. Landlords should instead set reasonable occupancy standards and enforce them equally across all of their units with all applicants and tenants. Landlords should not presume “those people” will necessarily behave inappropriately or violate contract terms. Application of rules should be consistent and behavior that does violate the rental agreement should also be handled consistently.

We will continue to consult with other fair housing organizations and industry groups to make sure that we remain confident that our position is a reasonable one in line with the state and federal laws.

If you have questions about a situation you have encountered, please consider us a resource and contact us! We will call you back to learn more about your situation and see if we can help. Housing consumers (such as renters) should contact the hotline at extension 2 and housing providers should contact extension 150. Anyone is welcome to email our office and your question will be routed to the appropriate staff member for a response.

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