How to Screen a Rental Applicant Who Doesn't Provide an SSN

How to Screen a Rental Applicant Who Doesn't Provide an SSN

Last Updated: June 25, 2024 by Cameron Smith

Some applicants either don’t have 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 Don’t Have One

Many immigrants don’t have a social security number. However, it’s important to note that just because they don’t have an SSN doesn’t mean they should be automatically rejected.

There is no federal law that requires an SSN to be provided on an application. Furthermore, no law prohibits renting to an illegal immigrant.


There are some state and local laws that prohibit renting to illegal immigrants, so be sure to check with an attorney.

2. They Do Not Wish to Provide Their SSN

Consumers are becoming more concerned with how landlords might handle their private information, especially with the ease of access to data. Understandably, an applicant could be worried about identity theft as they likely don’t know the landlord.

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 asking for a social security number is a good idea, 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 why 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 name, address, and date of birth. You can have these screening services pull information such as:

  • Eviction history
  • Criminal background
  • Income Verification
  • Credit report

Any screening service 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, which offers tenant screening services for as low as $19.95. However, you should also compare screening costs among a variety of services before choosing.

If the applicant decides not 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 is 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.

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Verify Income Without a Social Security Number

Perhaps the most important screening part is finding out an applicant’s income. Without a verified income, there’s no way to know if an applicant can 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:

  • Check W-2s – Have the applicant show you their tax forms to see how much income they earned in the previous year. This is option is great because it can’t be easily faked and it’s reliant on a contact at their company giving you the right information.
  • 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 Bank Statements – This helps you see how much is coming 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. 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 for income, the best thing to do here is to have the applicant list their job history on the application and 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. Late payments may be found on a credit report, but that’s dependent on a landlord’s desire to report them (and they must be at least 30 days late to be reported).

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.

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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 cannot 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 don’t have credit or rental history.

This would be most common with an immigrant who has just moved to the United States. If they’ve only been in the states for 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 want.

There are still a few ways that landlords can get in trouble by 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. The applicant could bring a compelling case for discrimination because it’s possible to screen tenants without an SSN.

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 equally—a maxim that holds true whether dealing with SSNs, income, or any other tenant screening criteria.

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2. State and Local Laws

While there is no regulation on a national level against denying applicants because they lack 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 from 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

However, because they don’t have criminal, credit, or rental history, it’s within your right as a landlord 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. 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 and other information such as name, birth date, and address.

Other tenant screening services can take an ITIN, as TransUnion does, to gather 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.