The Legal Way Your Landlord Can Find out If You're Worried About Money

June 11th 2016

Lucy Tiven

Wherever you live, the British startup company Score Assured is now offering your landlord "a deep dive into private social media profiles,” Steve Thornhill, the company's co-founder, told The Washington Post.

The service combs through each prospective tenant's social media posts for words like "loan" or "pregnant," and monitors their online shopping and social media activity. This information is used to create a report that assesses their personality, interests, and "financial stress level" — ie. whether or not they will pay rent. Washington Post reporter Caitlin Dewey explained:

"Its first product, Tenant Assured, is already live: After your would-be landlord sends you a request through the service, you’re required to grant it full access to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Instagram profiles. From there, Tenant Assured scrapes your site activity, including entire conversation threads and private messages; runs it through natural language processing and other analytic software; and finally, spits out a report that catalogues everything from your personality to your 'financial stress level.'"

This might sound like a violation of privacy and housing discrimination laws — Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 mandates that you can't be denied housing based on your age, race, religion, or familial status — but the service is completely legal.

Landlords who subscribe to the service can send a "connect invite" to each prospective tenant, requesting access to their social media activity. Once an invitation is accepted, Score Assured analyzes the data, creates a report on the tenant, and delivers it the landlord. Score Assured claims the service simply provides useful information to landlords, and allows them to make decisions for themselves.

Gawker reached out to Seth A. Miller, a lawyer specializing in housing law, about the legality of Tenant Assured. Miller explained in an email to Gawker:

“In NYC, there is an expanded list of categories of people that cannot be discriminated against: not just race, national origin, religion, ethnicity and gender, but also source of income and lawful profession. Generally, asking a tenant about whether he or she is a member of such a group can be evidence of discrimination. [Tenant Assured] facilitates this kind of discrimination. If that’s the idea, then the designer of [Tenant Assured] may be legally exposed, despite the claim that it is only passing information along. Even if the makers of [Tenant Assured], and the landlords who use it, manage to evade legal liability, it should be made illegal. People should not be forced to join social media just to rent an apartment, and landlords and employers should not have the right to view posts that were not written for them to read.”

Amidst the national affordable housing crisis, the service's "opt-in" clause is more of a cosmetic technicality.

"Regulators also have recognized that although such checks may technically be 'opt in,' they’re effectively not optional for those who don’t have the luxury of only choosing landlords, jobs or loans that don’t require them, or who work in industries or live in areas where such checks are standard practice," Dewey explained on the Post.

Score Assured plans to release a similar service that will allow employers to get "optional" social-media based reports on job applicants by the end of July. Though it's unclear exactly what these will consist of, you can view a sample Tenant Assured report on the company's website.

“If you’re living a normal life, then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about," Thornhill told The Post.

You can read the full report on The Washington Post.

[h/t The Washington Post]