Updated March 2022
These days, it’s not uncommon to see signs about posting on social media when visiting public places. At the gym, for example, you may see a sign that says something like, “If you do not check in on Facebook, were you ever really here?”
Does this type of social media presence extend into the rental world, and if so, should you be using social media to research tenants?
There are a lot of interesting questions to be asked about how online culture and a social media presence may or may not make their way into the rental industry. Many landlords are familiar with the idea of marketing through social media, but fewer landlords consider using social media as part of their screening process.
Today, learn more about how you can and cannot use social media to check up on your tenants and applicants for your rental properties. This information will be valuable to ensure you don’t cross any privacy boundaries by mistake.
A Table Of Contents On Social Media Research On Tenants
How exactly does social media play into the property management industry’s screening processes? Today, learn everything you need to know about using social media to your advantage in a time when online culture is booming more than ever before.
- Why Landlords Consider Social Media Part Of Property Management
- What Can You Do When Using Social Media As A Landlord?
- What To Avoid When Using Social Media As A Landlord
- Other Beneficial Ways To Utilize Social Media
- Is Online The Way Forward?
While social media outlets are great for growing your business, they can also be extremely helpful to aid you in keeping out negligent tenants – the key is to be careful and only use it for the right reasons.
“I am flabbergasted at what information, pictures, and behavior some people post for the world to see,” a writer for www.theLPA.com said. “I’ve even seen pictures of people wrecking their landlord’s house! I am glad we have another source to check.”
Landlords who are looking into potential tenants may consider doing a quick social media search of any public accounts. This is a quick way to get an idea of what type of applicant they are looking at and if there are any immediate red flags, such as a fake job or hidden pet.
The question, then, extends beyond the benefits of social media. There’s no doubt that using social media as part of screening and property management is beneficial to some landlords. The question becomes what is and what is not permitted. How can you legally use social media as a landlord, and are there any laws you should know about?
When you are browsing social media as a landlord, what information can you use and how can it be used for tenant review? It is important to know exactly what is permitted, what to look for, and how to use any information found appropriately.
One common way landlords use sites like Facebook or LinkedIn is to verify application information before running a full background check. Name, job, and location can easily be confirmed on public profiles. If the information doesn’t line up, you will likely want to talk to the tenant or do an employment verification. Some individuals prefer to fib on their social media profiles for privacy.
Another way that some landlords use social media is to review different platforms to verify specific things about potential tenants. To do this consistently with all applicants, many landlords will create a document that includes each site they use and what they are looking for. This can make the process easier while also ensuring equality between each review.
For example, a landlord may decide they will look for the following on these two sites:
- Facebook: Checking for name, job, illegal behavior, unlisted pets
- LinkedIn: Verifying employment and boss’s name
Though there are not many laws that prevent landlords from viewing an applicant’s social media, it is best to avoid digging too deep as this can cause you to cross a line of privacy that tenants may not like. Additionally, you may learn protected information that should not influence your decision, and it is best to avoid this information altogether if possible.
Social sites are incredibly helpful for many things, but that doesn’t mean that accessing these sites is a free-for-all of information you can use. Just as there are rules about what information to use when screening tenants, those laws still extend to information gathered through social media sources.
Keep in mind the following potential trouble points when you implement the use of social media checks and reviews in your property management plans.
Beyond the legality of looking at a tenant’s social media, remember that many tenants may find it uncomfortable or concerning if they find out that you are regularly looking at their social media. It can feel like a violation of privacy. In some cases, this could harm the relationship between you and your tenant.
Be mindful of how often you access profiles, even if they are public accounts, and how you use the information gathered, to mitigate this issue.
Additionally, remember that some information cannot be used to decide on a rental application. Certain details, such as race or religion, are part of protected classes that cannot be used for discriminatory purposes.
If you decide to review one tenant applicant’s social media profile, you need to review all of the other applications for that property as well. It is required by law to treat all applicants in the same way, including the methods you use to gather information.
It would be wrong of you to only target one applicant or tenant through social media checks, so you want to avoid this becoming a habit. Do not use social media to only check in on one tenant; this could lead to problems.
In life, you will have different opinions and life situations than other people. When reviewing an applicant’s social media profile, you may discover things about their political beliefs, religious choices, family status, or other personal information. Though this information is posted publicly, it still cannot be used to make decisions, because these facts are protected by law against discrimination.
Are you going to be able to separate learned information from information that you are permitted to use? If you will find it impossible to do so, it is best to avoid looking at social media so that you are not privy to more information than you should be basing your decisions on.
As a landlord, checking up on potential tenants is far from the only way you should consider using social media. Social media can also be an incredible tool for advertising your rental business, marketing your company, and recruiting help as needed.
Sharing virtual open houses of your available homes and units on your social media pages and websites can be a great way to improve visibility and trust in your properties. Before potential tenants even visit the property, they can get a clear glimpse into what they might get from one of your units. This will help to link you up with the right type of tenants from step one.
Another way to use social media as a landlord is to do research. You can look into what other units in the area are offering, what people are saying about other rentals, and use that information to improve your own listings. The value added by researching your specific market is invaluable, and social media makes this research simple.
If your tenants are inclined to share their rental experiences with your company, don’t be afraid to share those on social media! Potential tenants who research landlords online will come across these testimonials, and it will give them an idea of what tenants found valuable about your services as their landlord.
Finally, you can also use your social media and websites to help tenants learn more about how landlords run their business, how they choose tenants, and other interesting facts. Many tenants are curious about these things. Sharing with transparency will make it clear that you are a reliable landlord while also teaching potential tenants about the rental world from a new perspective.
You can even talk about tools that you use to screen tenants, such as RentPrep. RentPrep is a high-quality screening service that many landlords use to do in-depth background checks so they can determine if an applicant is a good fit for their rentals. Tenants, who may not be familiar with these types of screening services, will find it interesting to learn more about what types of tools landlords regularly use.
In 2018, a survey of landlords showed that just over 10% of landlords say they look at Facebook and other social media pages of applicants when deciding about renting out a property. Since that time, even more landlords likely consider this an important part of the screening process.
Landlords who look at social media pages say they do not look for incriminating information. Rather, they’re looking at the general vibe of the posts to ensure that the applicant is not obviously lying on their application.
Generally, however, most landlords do not make it a regular practice to look at their tenants’ social media or to use social media to check up on their tenants. As mentioned earlier in the article, many landlords worry about this potentially crossing a privacy line that may cause conflict down the line. Rather than using this indirect method of checking up on tenants, these landlords prefer to do a physical, in-person property inspection or visit instead.
Landlords use social media for multiple purposes, and which social media sites they use varies depending on what they are trying to accomplish.
Those who are screening tenants and using these services to double-check applications use sites where their tenants have profiles, including Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram. Tenants of varying ages commonly use these, so which sites are accessed can vary as well.
When landlords want to market their properties or share information about their rental company, they typically use more streamlined sites for a business. Most companies stick to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter as their pages make more sense for business purposes.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which sites to use as a landlord. As long as you are not illegally accessing any information or trying to look at private accounts, it is within your rights to use any social media to run your business.
The best way to screen a tenant is to break everything down into clear steps that you can follow one by one and ensure that you do not skip any of the steps while screening. These are the main steps that should be completed while screening a tenant:
- Determine your screening criteria.
The first thing you need to do is decide what is a priority for you when looking at tenants. This will be the guiding measure for all screening practices.
- Make sure to “pre-screen” when possible.
Pre-screening tenants is a way to ensure that only interested and well-qualified tenants submit applications. Providing information such as pet and smoking rules upfront will discourage applicants who aren’t a good fit from applying in the first place. This pre-screening saves time and money for everyone.
- Show the rental. If an applicant or potential applicant seems like a good fit on paper, show the unit to them. Use this time to answer and ask questions, and watch out for any major red flags.
- Collect and review applications, and make sure to reject any applications that are not fully complete as these should not be considered valid.
- Run a background check. Make sure the information on the application is accurate with a background check, and consider running a credit check as well. This type of information is invaluable when deciding whether or not to rent your unit to an applicant.
- Verify employment and rental information.
If an applicant provided phone numbers for previous landlords and their current employer, make sure to call and verify that the information provided is accurate.
- Inform all applicants of your decision.
After choosing the first applicant who is the best fit, make sure you let other applicants know why you denied their application. The reason should be specific, such as due to their application being incomplete or that another application was chosen before theirs was reviewed.
To evaluate a tenant, you want to do the following:
- Collect a complete tenant application
- Review the application thoroughly, comparing information through background checks and verification calls as needed
- Make sure their income and credit meet the requirements for your property
- Talk with the tenant at an open house or on the phone to get a feel for their character
By doing those four things, you will be able to evaluate whether or not an applicant is going to be a good fit for your rental unit.
Remember that when evaluating a tenant, it is imperative to make sure that you do so thoroughly but within all applicable laws. The Fair Housing Act ensures that landlords cannot discriminate against tenants for any protected classes, which include:
- National origin or ethnic background
- Familial status
Using information from any of these categories to make decisions on tenant applications is illegal, so be sure that no known information influences your decision in a damaging way.
As you think about what the future holds for your company and your screening practices, you might consider whether or not doing more online research with social media will be beneficial. For many landlords, reviewing applicants’ social media profiles doesn’t make a big impact on their screening practices. After all, the basic information you may double-check there is usually already covered in background checks.
Regardless, it can be helpful to utilize social media more in your business for marketing and research purposes beyond just tenant research. Do you use social media when screening rental applicants? Share your stories or comments below!