Some applicants either can’t or decide not to provide a social security number (SSN) when applying to a rental. However, there are still effective ways to pull credit, eviction, and background reports.
Why Would Applicants Be Without a Social Security Number?
There are two main reasons why an applicant wouldn’t provide an SSN on an application:
1. They Are an Immigrant and Don’t Have One
The first reason is fairly self-explanatory, and a valid reason. However, it’s important to note that just because they literally do not have an SSN doesn’t mean they should be automatically rejected.
There is no federal law that requires an SSN be provided on an application. Furthermore, there’s also no federal law that prohibits renting to an illegal immigrant.
There are some state and local laws that do prohibit renting to illegal immigrants, so be sure to check with an attorney.
2. They Do Not Wish to Provide Their SSN
More and more consumers are concerned with how their private information is being handled, especially with the ease of access to data. It’s understandable that an applicant could be worried about identity theft as they don’t really know the person they’re sending the application to.
One best practice for landlords is to mention on the application the steps that you plan to take to safeguard their information.
How to Screen Rental Applications Without a Social Security Number
Most landlords believe an SSN is required to do a property background check. However, landlords have access to plenty of resources for landlords to screen tenants without an SSN.
It’s still worth mentioning that it’s a good idea to ask for a social security number as that can be an added layer to verify someone’s identity. It’s nearly impossible to fake one. However, if you have an otherwise great tenant, don’t let that be the reason you turned them down.
Pull Consumer Reports Without a Social Security Number
In general, you can use tenant screening services to pull consumer reports with just a full name, date of birth, and address. You can have these screening services pull information such as:
- Eviction history
- Credit report
- Criminal background
- Income Verification
Just about any screening service that is compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) should be able to pull these reports without a Social Security Number.
One example of such a service is the American Apartment Owners Association, who have tenant screening services for as low as $19.95, but you should also compare screening costs among a variety of services before choosing.
If the applicant simply does not want to give you their social security number, you can find a tenant screening service that works directly with the applicant. In these cases, the landlord sends a link to the applicant, and the applicant supplies the information directly to the tenant screening service.
Since the screening service is likely reputable, and it’s all digital (no paper trail), most applicants will feel more comfortable with this route anyway. It’s a good option even for applicants who readily give their social security number.
Verify Income Without a Social Security Number
Perhaps the most important part of screening is to find out an applicant’s income. Without a verified income, there’s no way to know if an applicant will be able to cover each month’s rent. If landlords can’t validate income, that’s a top reason to deny an applicant.
However, even without an SSN, there are a few ways to validate their income:
- Call Their Employer – Many immigrants will have valid employment here in the U.S., even if they don’t have their SSN yet. Have the applicant sign a release and then call the company to talk to their boss or with HR.
- Check W-2s – Have the applicant show you their tax forms to see how much income they earned in the previous year. This is a great option if their boss is out of town and can’t be called, or you’re not sure you talked to a valid contact at the company.
- Check Bank Statements – This helps you see how much is going in and going out currently. On rare occasions, the applicant may have plenty of money in the bank but no job. They could be retired, have received an inheritance, or be the beneficiary of a large settlement. In these cases, you can see if they have a hefty balance in their account and be confident they can make the payments.
Verify Job History Without a Social Security Number
As with their income, the best thing to do here is to have the applicant list their job history on the application itself and then verify with the employer. At no point in this process should an SSN be required.
Ideally, you’ll be able to see that they have a stable career, with no large gaps in employment or frequent job hopping. Furthermore, landlords can look for a history of escalating responsibility or salary.
Verify Rental History Without a Social Security Number
Rental history usually includes late payments, missed payments, history of property damage, or leaving properties without giving notice.
It’s generally hard to find this information (except missed payments) on any screening report. You may find late payments on a credit report, but that’s dependent on a landlord having the desire to report it.
In these cases, the best thing to do is to call the prior landlord(s) and ask about their rental history directly. You will not need a social security number.
Verify Debt Without a Social Security Number
Understanding an applicant’s debt picture is just as important as verifying their income. An applicant may have plenty of income, but may not be able to make payments as they are buried in debt.
A list of debts can be found on a credit report, which as mentioned before, does not require a social security number.
In addition, an applicant may pull their credit through one of the three main credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) once per year for free. They can supply that to the landlord.
What if The Applicant Has No Consumer or Rental History?
While it’s become pretty easy to screen a tenant without an SSN, the more practical problem is that many of these people won’t have anything to find in their consumer reports.
This would be most common with an immigrant who has just moved to the United States. If they’ve only been in the states a short time, then pulling a credit report, eviction history, or criminal background won’t do any good. There’s no history there.
In this case, it’s well within a landlord’s right to deny these applicants. In fact, they should be seen as fairly high-risk applicants as it’s nothing more than a gamble whether they’ll be a good tenant.
Can Landlords Reject Applicants Without a Social Security Number?
In most cases, landlords can reject applicants without an SSN. As long as the landlord doesn’t deny an applicant for belonging to any of the protected classes established in the Fair Housing Act (FHA), they can use almost any criteria they would like.
There are still a few ways that landlords can get in trouble with rejecting an applicant without an SSN:
1. Discrimination Against an Immigrant
It’s possible for a denied applicant to claim discrimination even if that wasn’t the landlord’s intent.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say that a landlord denies an applicant for not providing an SSN. However, let’s say that the person denied is an immigrant. Because it’s become easier to screen tenants without an SSN, the applicant could bring a compelling case for discrimination.
They could say that not having an SSN isn’t a barrier to proper tenant screening, and claim that they were denied because they were an immigrant. Even if the landlord has no issues with immigrants, it’s a case that can be hard to defend against.
The best defense for a landlord would be to either:
- Have a blanket policy that denies everyone who doesn’t provide an SSN
- Have a blanket policy where the landlord still screens qualified applicants without an SSN.
The biggest red flag for discrimination is when a landlord doesn’t treat all applicants the same—a maxim that holds true whether dealing with SSNs, income, or any other tenant screening criteria.
2. State and Local Laws
While on a national level there is no regulation against denying applicants for not having an SSN, that’s not always the case for state and local laws.
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 check with an attorney first if you plan to deny applications for not providing an SSN.
Can Landlords Require More of Applicants Without an SSN?
Yes, landlords can require that applicants without an SSN:
- Have a co-signer
- Pay higher rent
- Provide a higher deposit (or any deposit if one wasn’t required)
It’s within a landlord’s legal right to take any of these actions as long as there isn’t a question of discrimination.
However, as outlined above, be careful about taking one of these actions in the case of an immigrant.
The more practical use of this would be if the applicant appears qualified, such as showing:
- Good employment and income
- Respectful communication
- Good references
- No pets and no smoking
But, they don’t have any credit, eviction, or background history. This would be the case for an immigrant who has moved to the U.S. recently.
It’s within your right as a landlord in those cases to require more to help mitigate the risk of taking on a tenant without a demonstrated history of being a good renter.
Can Landlords Use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to Screen Tenants?
An ITIN is a tax processing number given to people who do not have an SSN, but pay taxes and require a unique identifier.
As for screening tenants, it’s hit or miss whether a landlord can pull reports using an ITIN.
For example, Experian’s online portal asks for an SSN. If an ITIN is input, it will be recognized as invalid. The alternative is to send a request by mail, including the ITIN as well as other information such as name, birthdate, and address.
More tenant screening services are able to take an ITIN, like TransUnion does for gathering credit history.
However, it’s more practical today to find a tenant reporting service that doesn’t require an SSN and use that moving forward for your rental.