Screening Without Social Security Numbers?

A week ago Friday I attended a day long conference in Salem hosted by the Graham Law Group PC.  We listed to presentations on the importance of lead based paint licensing and certification by contractors, rental property habitability issues and requirements, and property management agreement contracts.  In the afternoon we had a town hall type forum where various issues of concern to property managers were discussed.

One of the issues discussed that afternoon was an article published in a trade publication by a Fair Housing representative implying that as owners and property managers we can not turn down someone applying to rent a property we own and/or manage just because they do not have a social security number.  As stated in the article: "A refusal to review alternative documentation when a SSN is not available will have a negative and disparate impact on individuals whose national origin is not the US, thereby having a disparate impact on that protected class".

It was news to many attendees that people without a social security number were a protected class.  As owners and managers we have screening criteria that insure everyone applying will have an equal opportunity to rent from us provided they meet the requirements listed in the screening guidelines.  These guidelines have been designed, among other things, to meet Fair Housing requirements regarding protected classes.  These screening criteria are also designed to assure the owner that they will have tenants who are able to pay the rent in a timely manner, take care of the property, and live in a manner that will not detract from the quiet enjoyment of their neighbors.  Key parts of the screening process include credit and criminal background checks.  These background checks, to be done in a thorough and consistent manner, require a social security number.

There are situations where we do screen people who do not have social security numbers.  These are people who are here on a student or work visa and have someone sponsoring them such as a school or employer.  The key point is that these people are here legally and have been vetted to a certain degree by a school or employer, have a reliable, verifiable source of income and most likely do not have a criminal background.

Discussion with managers at the conference who have attempted to screen applicants without a social security number pointed out they have been unable to pull a credit report or do an adequate criminal background check. In addition the attempt to do so took a significant amount of time and resources with less that satisfactory results.  One manager who said they had turned down an applicant without a SSN had legal action initiated against them by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry.

As property managers we have a fiducial and fiscal responsibility to manage each property in a manner that maintains and even increases the property's value.  We also have a responsibility to provide a place where tenants have a habitable environment that they can peacefully enjoy.  It strains credulity and common sense to now say we are required to consider those who do not meet the basic criteria we require of other applicants, require additional time and resources to screen, and in many cases have violated established law by being here illegally in the first place.  Is this really "fair" housing?