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Privacy in the landlord and tenant relationship

Revised: April 2018

The landlord-tenant relationship can involve the collection, use and disclosure of significant amounts of personal information. Privacy issues can arise, for example, relating to:

  • tenant concerns about over-collection and inappropriate use of personal information,
  • the use of surveillance cameras, and
  • disclosure of tenant information to third parties.

Here are some answers to the most common questions that we are asked by tenants or prospective tenants. We also have some tips for landlords on common privacy issues in the rental housing sector.

Are there any privacy laws that set out the rules for how landlords handle tenants’ personal information?

Landlords are required to comply with the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), Canada’s federal private sector privacy law, or provincial legislation deemed to be substantially similar.

PIPEDA sets out the ground rules for how businesses, including landlords, must handle personal information in the course of commercial activity.

Here are some of the key obligations that landlords have under the law:

  • They must obtain an individual's consent when they collect, use or disclose that person’s personal information (except in limited, defined circumstances set out in the law.)
  • They must identify the reasons for collecting personal information before or at the time of collection. They should ensure that these purposes are limited to what a reasonable person would consider appropriate under the circumstances.
  • They need to provide individuals with access to the personal information that they hold about them and allow them to challenge its accuracy.
  • They can only use a tenant’s personal information for the purposes for which it was collected.
  • They are responsible for ensuring the personal information is protected by appropriate safeguards.

Many landlords use credit bureaus. Credit bureaus collect, use and disclose personal information through their consumer credit reports. They are also governed by provincial and federal privacy laws.

British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec have provincial private sector laws that apply to landlords in those provinces. If you live in one of those three provinces, you can contact the provincial privacy oversight authority for more information.

Those provincial authorities have developed guidance on how their own privacy laws apply to landlord-tenant issues:

What type of information is covered by the law?

Under PIPEDA, personal information includes any factual or subjective information, recorded or not, about an identifiable individual. This includes information in any form, such as:

  • name, date of birth, banking information and other financial records,
  • identification numbers such as driver’s licence number and Social Insurance Number, and
  • photographs and video recordings about an identifiable individual.

How should landlords be obtaining my consent?

In some situations, landlords should be getting your express agreement to a collection, use or disclosure before going ahead with something like a credit check. In other situations, such as capturing your image on a security camera, it may be reasonable to rely on your “implied” consent.

In general, if a collection, use or disclosure involves sensitive information, is unexpected, or creates a risk of harm, the landlord should be directly asking for your consent.

Regardless of the form of consent used, landlords must provide you with information about:

  • what personal information is being collected,
  • for what purposes it will be used,
  • to which (if any) third-parties it will be disclosed, and
  • any risk of harm to you.

What personal information do I have to provide to a prospective landlord?

In order to make a decision on whether or not to rent a property to you, a prospective landlord may ask for some personal information to allow them to complete a credit check. A credit check will give the prospective landlord information about your ability to pay the rent.

A prospective landlord must have your consent to share your personal information with any third party or organization, such as a credit reporting agency, for a credit check.

To run a credit check, the landlord would need, at a minimum:

  • your name,
  • address, and
  • date of birth.

Some landlords may also ask for your driver’s license, passport, employer, income and expenses on a rental application. This information is not needed for a credit check but may allow the landlord to obtain a more detailed report from organizations that offer credit checks, or to ensure that you are not confused with someone with a similar name and date of birth.

Does a landlord require my Social Insurance Number (SIN)?

No. Your Social Insurance Number is a confidential number used for income reporting purposes. Under the law, organizations cannot require you to consent to the collection, use or disclosure of your personal information unless it is required for a specific and legitimate purpose.

This means that, unless an organization can demonstrate that your SIN is required by law, or that no alternative identifier would suffice to complete the transaction, you cannot be denied a product or service on the grounds of your refusal to provide your SIN.

Some organizations ask for the SIN for reasons unrelated to income reporting purposes

While this is not recommended, there is no law preventing private-sector organizations, including landlords, from asking for your SIN for other purposes such as identification (though they cannot require it).

In these cases, you are under no obligation to provide your SIN. Just because someone asks for your SIN, it doesn’t mean that you have to provide it.

Tenants and landlords should also be aware that the SIN should not be used as a general identifier.

For more information, see our resources on privacy and Social Insurance Numbers.

What are my options if a landlord asks for my Social Insurance number?

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) generally recommends that individuals do not give the SIN to a private-sector organization unless there is a legal requirement to do so.

If you are asked for your SIN, you can ask why the landlord needs it, how it will be used and to whom it will be given. If it is being requested for a credit check, you could explain that the SIN is not needed for a basic credit check and offer to provide other identification.

If the landlord insists, you could suggest that they contact the OPC. You could also consider filing a complaint with the OPC.

Can a landlord ask to see my driver’s licence? My tax information? My pay stubs?

Privacy law does not prevent such requests. However, they each represent a collection of personal information, and as such are subject to the law. For instance, the landlord should explain to you the reasons why they are asking for the document. The law requires that the purpose be one that a reasonable person would consider appropriate.

Landlords should not collect more information than they need for the stated purpose, and should not keep it for longer than necessary. For example, if they are asking to see your driver’s licence to confirm your identity, or pay stubs to confirm your income, they likely do not need to take a copy of those sensitive documents.

You can ask questions about why certain documents are being requested, and, if necessary, suggest alternatives which could achieve the same goal.

Can a landlord look into my background by looking at what I post on social media or by calling another landlord?

Landlords should get consent for obtaining and providing reference and/or background checks.

Informal checks – such as looking at your Facebook page or Twitter feed, or asking another landlord about you – are a collection of personal information and, therefore, privacy laws apply.

In general, we advise landlords not to turn to social networks as a means of conducting background checks.

Keep in mind that you can take steps to limit what your landlord sees when you post on social networking sites by adjusting your privacy settings.

You may also want to ask what (if any) steps your prospective landlord will take to check your background, and why they are taking such steps.

Can a landlord put my name on a “bad tenant” list?

Our office has found that landlords do not have the right to disclose information such as a poor payment history to an unregulated or ad hoc ‘bad tenants list.”

However, formal and regulated mechanisms, such as credit agencies, may be notified in appropriate circumstances.

Can a landlord take pictures of my apartment and its contents?

Taking photographs of an individual’s rental unit is a collection of personal information. The landlord must identify the purpose prior to, or at the time of, collection, and also obtain your consent. The landlord must also make a reasonable effort to ensure that you understand how the information will be used or disclosed.

Can my landlord set up surveillance cameras in my building?

While people may appreciate the security that comes with video surveillance, they don’t want to feel watched in their own homes.

To meet their obligations under PIPEDA, landlords should post signs and distribute policies that clearly explain, for example, how footage will be used and when it will be accessed.

Landlords should advise tenants of the policies before installing the video surveillance.

Cameras should not capture the inside of apartments. Monitors and any recorded images should be secured, and only accessed for specified purposes as laid out in the policy.

How can I find out what information my landlord has about me?

Under PIPEDA, you have a general right to access your own personal information held by a landlord.

You need to make the request in writing. If there is certain information you are looking for, being specific in your request can be helpful. Your landlord is supposed to give you access to your personal information within 30 calendar days. There are some very specific circumstances under which the organization may require an extension of up to 30 additional days. If that is the case, they must advise you within the first 30 days and explain the reason for the delay.

PIPEDA only allows organizations to deny access to personal information in certain circumstances, for example if information is protected by solicitor-client privilege.

Are other tenants subject to privacy laws?

In general, the conduct of individuals who are not collecting, using or disclosing personal information for commercial purposes is not covered under Canadian privacy laws. Other laws may apply to some situations.

Where can I find information about other laws related to renting a home?

For details about other laws that apply to rental issues, please see Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Renting in Canada information.

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