Updated October 2022
As a landlord, you might be at a loss for what to do whenever a rental applicant doesn’t provide their Social Security number (SSN). After all, choosing the right tenant for your property requires tenant screening, and it’s not possible to do tenant screening without their Social Security number, right?
That’s not exactly true!
While it is definitely easier to do a thorough tenant screening with a Social Security number provided by a rental applicant, SSNs aren’t always a necessity if you are using a background check company with FCRA certified screeners. Often, you can adjust your screening practices to still get the information that you need to determine if you have found the right tenant or not.
The only way to know if screening without an SSN will work for your business is to learn about how to do this, what information you will still be able to see, and what you’ll be missing out on. Today, learn all about tenant screening without a Social Security number.
A Table Of Contents: Background Check Without SSN
While doing a tenant background check with a Social Security number on file is easier, there are situations when you might want to run one without this information. Is it possible, and how can you do this? Learn more today:
- Tenant Screening Without A Social Security Number: Why Is This Necessary?
- Can You Do A Background Check Without A Social Security Number?
- RentPrep: How You Can Screen Tenants Without An SSN
- Privacy First: Screening With Tenant Involvement
- FAQs: Screening Without A Social Security Number
- Why do landlords ask for Social Security numbers on rental applications?
- Is it legal for landlords to require a Social Security number on the rental application?
- Does it matter if I don’t have a rental applicant’s SSN?
- What responsibilities do landlords have to protect a tenant’s private information?
Tenant Screening Without A Social Security Number: Why Is This Necessary?
Landlords who used to have every single rental applicant fill out a paper application that included their Social Security number might not understand why they should learn how to do tenant screening without access to this number. After all, don’t tenants have to provide this information?
While some states allow you to require that rental applicants provide their Social Security number, other states do not allow this. As laws regarding privacy change, more and more states may forbid landlords from requiring this information on an application.
The bottom line is that due to their hesitations about identity theft and other issues, some rental applicants may not want to fill in their Social Security number on an application.
Over time, people have become accustomed to not giving out their Social Security number when they can avoid doing so. Rather than giving it to an individual or filling it in on paperwork, people prefer to use secure websites to provide this information in an encrypted fashion.
Thankfully, there are other ways to have the tenant provide their SSN without giving it directly to you or to avoid needing their Social Security number at all. Either method can still set you up with the high-quality screening, which is necessary to boost your business.
Can You Do A Background Check Without A Social Security Number?
Landlords who use background checks to screen tenants will be asking this question: Can a background check be done without the applicants SSN? Let’s take a look at how background checks usually find information about potential tenants.
When screening tenants, there are three main identifiers a background check service typically looks for:
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number
A tenant screening service that focuses on accuracy will first verify this information and then use the verified information to locate records. This verification step is extremely important and prevents an inaccurate report. So what happens if the information is incorrect or this is information missing? If you are using a screening service that utilizes FCRA Certified Screeners, additional searches can be ran to locate the correct information. So if you do not have the applicants SSN, the Screener completing your report will run a search to locate the SSN and then add this to the report. Since our RentPrep Background Check report uses in house Screeners, this report can be ordered without the applicants SSN.
RentPrep: How You Can Screen Tenants Without A SSN
If you are comfortable screening tenants without them providing their Social Security number, you will still be able to do a background check using some screening services. These services make it fast and easy to get the information you need.
When you don’t have access to a potential tenant’s Social Security number, using one of these services can simplify the screening process. Researching information on your own can take a long time.
Here at RentPrep, it’s a simple three-step process:
Step 1: Signup For A Free Account
You can create an account with RentPrep by clicking here.
Your account is free to create; you will not be billed for setting it up. You will only be billed once you select and complete checkout for certain products, and all potential charges will be shown for review before they are processed.
Step 2: Choose A RentPrep Background Check
You have the option with our service to run a TransUnion Full Credit Report, formerly known as SmartMove, or RentPrep tenant screening report. While both of these reports need a Social Security Number, you do not need this in your possession at the time of ordering to get an accurate screening.
TransUnion Full Credit Report, formerly known as SmartMove, includes a full credit report, nationwide evictions and a nationwide criminal and sex offender search but will only require the applicants email address in the ordering process. Once the order is placed the applicant will receive an email to complete an identity verification process which requires them to input their name, date of birth, social security number and address. If you choose this report then Step 3 will not apply. The RentPrep Background Check includes information about evictions, bankruptcies, judgments, liens, and a search of the National Criminal and Sex Offender lists. This can all be done without tenant involvement so during the ordering process you will be prompted to enter the applicants name, date of birth, social security number and address If you do not have the SSN in hand, use the directions below in Step 3. If you choose to add-on the income verification report, you can also receive income verification even without a SSN.
Step 3: Tip Off Our Screeners That You Do Not Have The SSN
The easiest way to notify our screeners is to enter all zeros (000-00-0000) as the SSN for your applicant when filling out the report information.
This will notify our screeners that you don’t have the Social Security number for your potential tenant. If you want to be thorough, you can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know your order number and that you won’t be providing an SSN so that the screeners don’t think the information was accidentally omitted.
Privacy First: Screening With Tenant Involvement
One of the significant concerns that some rental applicants have with providing their Social Security number is that they are worried it will not be adequately protected. Writing it on a physical application or sending it in an email to a landlord, for example, are not very secure ways to give out their Social Security number.
In reality, however, many landlords no longer use these types of collection methods when getting information from tenants.
Suppose you prefer to use a tenant screening method that uses the applicant’s Social Security number for the most complete information. In that case, there are a few things you should consider and share with your tenant when doing so.
Landlords must have the potential tenant’s permission to run a credit report on them or use their Social Security number to collect sensitive information. Private information furnishers like landlords are, in most states, allowed to require a Social Security number. However, they must communicate to the individual exactly how that number will be used.
If you have an applicant who expresses concern, let them know exactly how you will be using the information and what types of limitations prevent you from abusing that power. This can help them to feel more comfortable providing a SSN on their application.
2: Tenant-Involved Screening
Another way to reassure potential tenants is to use tenant-involved screening services. With these screening services, you collect an email and name from the tenant and provide these to your chosen service, such as RentPrep.
Then, the service emails the tenant directly. They log into a secure site, enter their information, and give their permission to use that information. Then, the screening service securely collects relevant data and provides it to the landlord. At no time is the landlord given access to private or confidential information they should not be able to see.
This type of screening is very common today, and many tenants are more comfortable with this type of screening software. Providing their Social Security number to a secure site feels safer to many individuals, so this may be something you want to consider using.
Choosing The Right Screening
As mentioned, both of RentPrep’s screening reports can accommodate landlords who do not collect the applicants SSN. The decision when choosing a report ultimately depends on the information you are looking to obtain about the applicant. The RentPrep Background Check will not include a full credit report soif this will not be enough information for your needs, you may want to consider using the TransUnion Full Credit Report, formerly known as SmartMove, instead.
This report does require an SSN or an ITIN, but the tenant can give it to the platform directly rather than give it to you. Many tenants will be more comfortable doing this than giving it to a landlord or property manager, so you may want to check in with your applicant to find out what they think.
To learn more about the tenant screening options at RentPrep, check out our full packages page today.
FAQs: Screening Without A Social Security Number
Why do landlords ask for Social Security numbers on rental applications?
Most experienced landlords ask for a Social Security number when collecting rental applications, but why is this? There are a few reasons why landlords want to have this important piece of identifying information about their potential tenants.
First, landlords need to be able to verify that applicants are actually who they say they are. A straightforward way to do this is to confirm that the name under the SSN matches the name on the application. Other forms of identification can be faked more easily; however, Social Security information is next-to-impossible to fake.
This is a concern for some landlords because unreliable tenants will try to rent under different names to avoid the consequences of their past bad renting situations or legal issues. To ensure they are not being tricked, landlords want to be able to verify the identity of all applicants.
Another reason landlords prefer that applicants provide their Social Security number is to run a credit check. Once landlords have permission from an applicant, they can use the applicant’s name and SSN to check into how financially reliable the applicant is. The credit check shows various financial information that can inform the landlord about a potential tenant’s financial and rental record.
Suppose a landlord uses damaging information from a credit check to deny a rental application. In that case, the applicant should be given the reason and reasonable access to the credit report in question. This is to ensure the applicant has the opportunity to verify that the information showing on their credit history is accurate.
Is it legal for landlords to require a Social Security number on the rental application?
In most cases, it is legal for a landlord to require a Social Security number on their rental application as long as the potential tenant is provided with confirmation and proof that the number will be kept secure. Additionally, the applicant usually has a right to refuse to provide their number if they do not believe the security method is secure enough.
In California, for example, businesses and services may require a Social Security number. Still, they have to follow the rules about how that information is stored, the type of encryption used on any websites, and several other necessary security protocols.
As a landlord, it is reasonable and fair for you to request a Social Security number from potential tenants in most situations. In some situations, you might even need that information to follow other aspects of landlord–tenant laws.
Some cities, for example, require that landlords place security deposits in a specific type of bank account under the tenant’s information, and that would require a Social Security number. If that is the case, you may need to request that a tenant provide this information when signing a rental agreement, even if they do not provide it for the application.
Does it matter if I don’t have a rental applicant’s SSN?
In an ideal situation, you would be able to use your tenant’s SSN to get the most accurate background check on them. While this isn’t always the case, a tenant who is uncomfortable giving out their SSN may be trying to keep something hidden in their records.
Here at RentPrep, it’s preferable that you have your applicant’s SSN prior to requesting the RentPrep Background Check, especially if they have a very common name.
If your applicant’s name is John Smith, there is a good chance there are other John Smiths who were born on the same day, and that could lead to some issues.However, it is still possible for us to cross-reference databases to narrow down the field. If your order a RentPrep Background Check and the Screener cannot locate the SSN for your applicant, there will be a note in your report stating that the information could not be verified and the SSN is needed to complete the report.
Unfortunately, if your applicant does not have a valid US Social Security number, the best option would be to run an international search on your applicant.
If you have any questions about screening your tenants, feel free to click the Live Chat box on our website to start a conversation with one of our FCRA Certified Screeners.
What if the applicant has an ITIN?
If an applicant has an Individual Tax Identification Number you can order the TransUnion Full Credit Report, formerly known as SmartMove. At this time the RentPrep Background Check cannot support ITINs.
What responsibilities do landlords have to protect a tenant’s private information?
Though landlords are legally permitted to request a Social Security number from potential tenants on their rental applications, the applicants also have rights that need to be maintained.
First, applicants are allowed to ask questions about how that information is going to be used, and they must be asked for permission before any type of credit report or credit check is run on them. If an applicant does not grant this permission, a landlord cannot do a credit check.
Additionally, applicants are allowed to ask how the information will be secured, and landlords are expected to follow those rules. Landlords or property managers may, for example, keep any paper applications in a lockbox and then cross-shred the documents once they no longer need the information on file.
If an applicant’s private information becomes compromised due to neglect by the landlord, this could lead to legal action or fines. Landlords need to have the right protections in place when collecting sensitive information from tenants.
Be Alert: Running A Background Check Without A Social Security Number
Ultimately, it is up to you as the landlord to determine whether or not you want to require a Social Security number on your rental application. Of course, this depends on whether your state or local governments permit this type of screening requirement.
Regardless of what you decide, ensure that you are consistent across all applications. It is a violation of Fair Housing Laws to ask one rental applicant to provide their SSN when other applicants did not need to do this. Choose whether or not you will absolutely require this number, and then stick to it.
Don’t rule out tenants just because they are unsure about providing their SSN; work with them to find a way around this issue as this is a common and reasonable fear. There are ways to do tenant screening without a Social Security number, after all, so you can try to provide alternatives when possible.