The Dos and Don’ts of Screening Tenants Through Social Media

By
Real Estate Technology with Innago

When Myspace first came on the scene in 2003 as one of the earliest social media platforms, no one could have imagined the digital revolution just on the horizon. Fast forward to today and it is hard to remember a time when half of our lives were not lived on the internet.

These days a person’s banking information, their employment history, and even their personality is available online for anyone with access. So it should come as no surprise that when we are in situations where we want to learn more about a person, the internet is one of the first places we look. Universities, employers, and now even some landlords are looking online for key indicators of their candidates’ character.

But what happens when the digital discovery goes too far? What are the limits of screening candidates through the internet and how can you avoid crossing the line? Read on to understand the dos and don'ts of screening tenants through social media.

 

What Not to Do

When individuals set out crafting their social media presences online, most are not thinking about future employers, educators, or landlords as their primary target audience. Why is this important to note? It's good to keep in mind that while this information and content is available, it’s not necessarily for you. Having this understanding will help you navigate the activity you come across and sort out what’s relevant.

DON’T Play Big Brother

Yes, the content is out there. But that doesn’t mean you have to look at it. Checking in on your potential tenants in the early stages as a means of screening can be built in to your decision-making process. However, beyond that point, it’s not pertinent.

Keeping your eye on a tenant’s account could seem tempting for the purposes of, say, catching evidence of a hidden fur baby or an illegal sublet, but we strongly encourage you to resist the urge. If they accepted your request to connect in the first place, it’s unlikely you’ll catch them posting anything illicit or relevant to your space. More likely your actions will serve to, for lack of better phrasing, creep them out. No one wants to feel like they are being surveilled, especially not by their new landlord. To most people, that sounds like a horror movie just waiting to happen.

DON’T Believe Everything You See

There are too many people these days who subscribe to the Gospel of Instagram, not realizing that it’s more a work of fiction. The personas people project on the platform and many others are usually carefully curated and not necessarily accurate depictions of their true lives.

As a viewer it’s important to remember this and take what you see with a grain of salt. You might find some straightforward dealbreakers; however, more likely you’ll see something that bears explanation. If you do run across questionable content, you are well within your rights to ask the tenant directly about it. Give them an opportunity to explain the scenario before judging a book by its cover photo.

DON’T Pick and Choose How to Screen

One of the biggest pitfalls in utilizing social media to screen tenants comes in the form of legal disputes. According to the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or disability. Once you open the door to getting to know tenants through their internet profiles, it’s hard to anticipate what kind of information you might find relative to these aforementioned personal identifiers.

In order to protect yourself from potential lawsuits, you have to standardize your process. This way, you can prove in a court of law that the same actions were taken to review each and every candidate. Any time you deviate from this predetermined process, picking and choose who you investigate online, you put yourself and your business further at risk.

 

What to Do

Now let’s talk about what’s possible. Reviewing someone’s information online is a great and legal way to determine if they will be a quality candidate. As long as you play by the rules, there is a lot you can gain from doing your homework.

DO Follow Employers’ Examples

According to a 2017 CareerBuilder study, 70% of employers use social networks to screen employees before hiring. In these instances, they are looking for dealbreakers like negative comments directed at a previous employer, discriminatory remarks, abusive language, or even excessive drug or alcohol use. A discerning candidate should know better than to post such things, but not in every case. Which is what makes this exercise significant.

And the outcome is not always negative. In fact, over 44% of employers of the same study cited the social media activity of a candidate as a positive selling point and reason for hire. In other words, the water flows both ways and bears taking temperature.

DO Keep it Consistent

As mentioned previously, having a standard tenant screening procedure in place will not only help you streamline your process and be more efficient with candidates, but it will also protect your business from any threats to its reputation. As long as you are following the same guidelines set forth in your screening checklist, you and the Fair Housing advocates at large should have nothing to worry about.

 

As with any best practice, there’s a right way and a wrong way and somewhere in between. While it may be tempting to peruse you tenant’s ‘gram and scroll in the same way you do in your free time, that will land you squarely in the wrong.

Know what you’re there for, keep it consistent, and take every posting with a degree of skepticism. At the end of the day, you have one mission – to find the best fit candidate for your space. Do that and the only “like” you will need is the approval of your tenant and a timely paid rent check. And that’s definitely worth a “follow”.

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