The legality of denying tenants for not having a social security number can be tricky. In most cases, a landlord can require a social security number from their prospective tenants and reject applicants where one isn’t provided. However, there are a few state and local exceptions, as well as potential discrimination issues when rejecting an immigrant who doesn’t have a social security number.
Why Do Landlords Need a Social Security Number?
Landlords ask for social security numbers so they can pull credit history and verify their applicants’ identity during a background check. These reports allow for landlords to determine if an applicant has a high likelihood of being a quality long-term tenant.
While it is possible to screen tenants without a social security number, the majority of landlords will simply reject the application for leaving the SSN blank.
Many tenant screening services do offer the ability to work with the prospective tenant directly, foregoing the need for a landlord to ask for the social security number on the application. The applicant will still need to supply a social security number, but they are more protected knowing it’s going straight to the tenant screening service.
Can Landlords Require a Social Security Number?
In most cases, a landlord can require a social security number. As long as the landlord isn’t running afoul of discrimination laws, they can reject an application for almost anything they want. It is best practice to have a legitimate reason for rejecting an application, and submitting an incomplete form lacking an SSN counts.
In some cases, an applicant may try to provide alternative means of screening so they don’t have to give out their social security number. This could be pulling a free credit report from one of the three credit bureaus and submitting to the landlord. Or, the applicant may want to purchase a criminal background check for themselves and pass that to the landlord.
However, that often doesn’t stop a landlord from rejecting the application. That strategy may work for a property in low demand where the landlord is willing to make concessions, but that often isn’t the case.
When Can’t a Landlord Require a Social Security Number?
The first reason is that some local and state laws forbid requiring a social security number. Here’s an example from Portland:
“A Landlord may not reject an application as incomplete because an Applicant or member of the Applicant’s household does not produce a social security number or prove lawful presence in the U.S.”
Be sure to consult with a landlord & tenant lawyer before requiring a social security number on any rental applications, as your specific area may have stricter laws.
Secondly, landlords can run into discrimination issues when requiring a social security number.
It’s possible you’ll have applicants who don’t have a social security number, and the main reason would be if the person is an immigrant.
However, many of these foreigners will have what’s called an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). This unique number in most cases is enough to get complete reports on your applicant.
If you turn away an immigrant for not having a social security number, when you could have used their ITIN, they could claim discrimination as country of origin is a protected class
Illegal Immigrants Without SSN
Illegal immigrants may obtain an ITIN. There is also no federal law that penalizes landlords for denying housing to undocumented immigrants, but there are some state and local laws that do. Be sure to check with a lawyer if you plan to rent to undocumented immigrants.
However, it is worth noting that many immigrants won’t have much of a history to pull from if they’ve only been in the country for a short time. That is a legitimate reason to deny housing, as comparing credit and rental histories is one of the main criteria for deciding between applicants.