Do I Need a Social Security Number to Screen Tenants?

We are often asked whether a Social Security number is required to screen tenants.  What if an applicant refuses to supply the number–can a landlord reject them?  Can a landlord ask an existing tenant for the number if they didn’t get it during the initial application?

While a Social Security number is invaluable in distinguishing an individual from others with similar names or the same address, it is not mandatory for obtaining tenant screening reports.  The full legal name of an applicant, the date of birth, and recent address will also work.

If an applicant refuses to provide a Social Security number, this does not mean that they cannot be screened. However, if the landlord cannot determine tenant-worthiness with the information that is provided, this would be a valid reason to reject the applicant. 

If a tenant has been willing to provide other personal data but stops short of the SSN, this could be cause for concern.  They may believe the landlord cannot access tenant screening records without the SSN.  A landlord has to evaluate the applicant’s reason for withholding the information and carefully verify identity in that case.

A landlord has a right to ask for updated information, including a request for a Social Security number from an existing tenant, but that should be done in conjunction with renewing the lease and running a current tenant background check.  Having the tenant complete a current rental application with an authorization to screen is a reasonable step in most instances.  Be careful if the lease is not about to expire, or if it automatically renews.  If the tenant does not want to provide the number, a landlord may not be able to make new demands under the existing lease.  Talk it over with an attorney if this is the case.

When it comes time to collect tenant debt, a Social Security number can be critical in locating and extracting a judgment from the tenant.

With every tenant, even the most cooperative, it is essential for a landlord to perform due diligence in the tenant screening process.  This means not only obtaining the reports, but reading each with a critical eye, comparing them to one another and against information the tenant provided during the application process.

If an applicant is hesitant to divulge their Social Security number, it may help to assure them that the number, along with all other personal information they turn over, will be kept safe and confidential.  See How to Guard Tenant Files for more on a landlord’s duty to protect tenants’ information.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike T. May 3, 2011 at 5:52 am

SSN is required in some cases: not to get a judgement for monies owed, but to collect money against a judgement. In Monmouth County, NJ, once a money judgement is entered in your favor by the court, you have to then go thruough a separate process to certify that the person you sued is not in the actiuve military. That process requires the person’s SSN. Once they service determines that the person is not active military, you can collect your judgement. Can’t do this without Social Security Number.

Concerned nephew May 15, 2014 at 2:29 am

My recently divorced 72 year old aunt’s tax preparer asked for her tenant’s SSN in order to file her taxes. She sent a nice letter to her tenants, but only one responded. Should she go to another tax preparer?

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