Privacy Rights for Tenants
November 16, 2017 10:15 AM
by Gary Rhoades
A previous “Consumer Corner” covered a major privacy issue for tenants: entries into their homes by landlords or managers. In “When May A Landlord Enter a Tenant’s Unit” (May 10, 2016), we learned that owners must give 24-hour notice and have one of the reasons for entry under state law. Tenants have other privacy rights, too, including privacy over personal information and freedom from unfair surveillance.
When a landlord collects information on applicants’ credit, it is subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and can’t be used for any other purpose.
When a landlord is no longer using the private data, the FCRA requires that it be disposed of under Federal Trade Commission rules.
While landlords may ask potential tenants about their credit history, rental history and income, they may not ask any questions that violate federal or state discrimination laws.
These include questions about race, color, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, disability, genetic information, age, or immigration status.
If a tenant with a disability needs a reasonable accommodation from a rule or policy (such as an exception to a “no pets” rule for their service animal or companion animal), the landlord can request a medical letter documenting the need; but the tenant or letter does not have to disclose the disability.
Immigration status is an important protected class.
To protect its residents, California has passed measures such as The Immigrant Tenant Protection Act (ITPA).
The ITPA prohibits landlords from asking about a tenant’s immigration status, or from threatening to report tenants based on their immigration status.
The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office accepts and investigates complaints based on ITPA violations or any violation of the fair housing laws.
Privacy from surveillance
For many tenants, there are few things more disturbing in a landlord-tenant relationship than an owner taking unsolicited photographs or video of the tenants, their children, or even inside their homes including personal spaces such as closets and drawers.
The issue of Santa Monica landlords taking unjustified photographs inside tenants’ homes became such a problem that the City recently amended its Tenant Harassment Ordinance (THO) to address the problem.
The THO had already prohibited landlords from interfering with a tenant’s right to privacy.
The new amendment specifically prohibits landlords from photographing portions of a rental housing unit that are beyond the scope of a lawful entry or inspection.
While the need for security does justify surveillance cameras in some cases, landlords should take care not to aim them into tenants’ windows or doorways or otherwise make tenants the subject of the surveillance.
If you have questions about privacy issues or a complaint to file, please call the City Attorney’s Office at 310-458-8336.
This piece was originally printed on November 15, 2017 in the Santa Monica Daily Press.