Should You Google Your Applicant?

There are many who claim the act of Googling applicants by searching for their online activities is a double-edged sword that may prove to be either insightful or insidious. Depending on how socially active your applicant is online, you may stumble upon more than you should know regarding personal information, especially in photos and comments made through the use of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and more… You may even read, hear or see things that are legally none of your business—such as sexual orientation, political alignment, race, ethnicity or religion. So be prepared to ignore the potential tsunami of information that may be great fodder for gossip, but inappropriate and even illegal for landlords to use.

The important thing is protecting yourself from potential accusations of acting upon improper information. Searching the internet is not the problem, its how you use the information you may discover. Remember, you are not the tenant’s employer (under most circumstances), so your scope is limited to only that which has a direct bearing on the health and safety of the community, the condition of the unit, the ability to pay the rent and maintain a peaceful existence.

If you instead misuse the information to take an adverse action against someone for reasons that put them in a legally protected class (even though their credit, references and employment is good) you may find yourself defending against an unlawful discrimination lawsuit. However, if you learn that your applicant lied on the rental application about something material such as never being evicted, but you found out that they tweeted a message stating the contrary, then you will be standing on firmer ground should you decide to act on your discovery. Just be sure to print a copy of any material misrepresentations you find.

While some landlord-tenant law attorneys may advise against Googling, the consensus in the industry is the more information available, the better your chances are of finding the best possible candidate. It’s important to note: Google is not a satisfactory replacement for the use of professional tenant credit reports and public record searches. Always start with the essentials and then compliment your facts with an online investigation and be mindful of common names. You never want to falsely accuse anyone. If you’re ever unsure about an online identity, it’s best not to rely on it for an adverse action. It’s best to back up a denial with facts revealed from a rental application, reference or official record such as a credit report.

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