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Real Estate Privacy Risks To Look Out For In The United States

American households have been facing tremendous challenges over the last couple of years, as the pandemic-induced economic downturn saw roughly 20 corporate renters being responsible for roughly 3,152 evictions across the country during the early months of the pandemic.

Posted: 2nd August 2022 by Finance Monthly
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Even as the pandemic has started to wind down slightly, reports found that more than 13.5 million, roughly one in five renters, were still not caught up with their rent as early as February 2021. This, and many other rental or property-related issues have been plaguing American households, even as rental prices in 47 states have increased by as much as 5% in the last year

While the property market has shown signs of cooling down, as the Federal Reserve aggressively hikes interest rates to combat soaring inflation, a new challenge is looming on the horizon which has now left millions concerned over their privacy and safety. 

As the rise of technology, software, and the Internet of Things (IoT) filter through every industry, real estate, and property management is no different in this regard. 

The technologies being used by corporate property owners and landlords are raising questions over the amount of data and information of tenants that are being shared or sold to third-party agents or bad actors. 

Seeing as many landlords or owners are now looking to modernise their rental units, utilising the capabilities technology and the internet has to offer, with products such as security monitors, facial recognition, augmented reality facility management, and smart entry systems, among others - tenants want to know how much of their data is being obtained and stored by their landlords. 

The gathering of personal information and data, in regards to property management and rental units, has been a long road of concern for many American households. Seeing as state and local laws regulate what information landlords are allowed to obtain, there’s been a discrepancy in terms of how much available data is being shared or sold to third parties. 

The rental rewards platform and proptech startup Bilt recently came under fire for its almost seemingly endless pit of personal information and data it has on millions of American renters. The startups' software and collaboration with major corporate landlords such as Equity Rental means that they have access to renters' personal information and addresses.

Privacy concerns are nothing new, and for renters, it’s becoming more and more alarming how much of their private records or information is in the hands of their landlords. 

It’s not at all possible to trace and find every server that has some dossier of your personal information. Regardless thereof, both tenants and landlords should consider some of the key real estate privacy risks they could encounter. 

Smart home technology and internet 

As already mentioned, technology and software, with the help of the internet is creating a new breed of homes and apartments across America. 

The rise of smart homes has been a long time coming, but it’s only more recently that landlords have been focused on implementing certain technological features in both old and new buildings to upgrade security and tenant features. 

While these features are making homes and rental properties more attractive for American renters, it now also comes with an increased risk of data and information exposure. 

Smart doorbells, automated thermostats, wifi-connected delivery and security systems, and even smart entry systems may contain some trace of renter data. From fingerprints to facial recognition, information such as this is being captured and stored in various servers unknown to tenants. 

Today, more than ever before it’s become important for landlords and owners to oblige state and local laws regulating the protection of tenant data when utilising IoT systems. States such as California and Oregon have in more recent times moved to implement specific security standards for IoT devices in smart homes. 

Even though these regulations exist within a minority of states, landlords should carefully review the type of security systems and devices they’re looking to use and indicate this to their tenants. Furthermore, landlords should consider vendor protocols and security measures to protect personal data and information in the event of a breach. 

Data Collection 

Applying for a rental could mean that a renter will need to give up a lot of their personal information for review by the landlord. 

Some of the most common information required are: 

  • Current or any past addresses. 
  • Social Security Number and Driver’s License Number. 
  • Bank statements and proof of income.
  • Expected occupancy.

While landlords may be obligated to request these personal documents, many times tenants feel unsafe or wary of having to simply offer up their private information to landlords. 

Recent changes in state privacy laws have meant that renters now have rights concerning the personal information they share with landlords, the right to access, correct, and delete or obtain portable copies. Seeing as much of this information is shared via the internet or online platforms, keeping track of all documents shared can be a tremendous challenge. 

To ensure data protection and privacy, landlords are urged to utilise systems and data collecting points that are centralised on a secure database, and keep these files under a digital lock and key. 

Applying for a rental, whether it’s through the internet or in person does come with an administrative burden, and it’s important that both parties, the landlord and tenant remain compliant with state and local laws, and ensure that data collection points are secure at all times. 

Tenant privacy notice 

Tenants will need to be informed by their landlords or building management company about the required personal information that is needed during the application process and throughout the rental period. 

Various state laws and amended regulations have now become more focused on protecting renters’ personal information, and ensuring that landlords communicate any form of the privacy notice. 

Landlords will need to notify tenants on:

  • Clear notice on the personal information required
  • The use cases of the documentation needed
  • How it will be utilised throughout the rental period

For most cases, it’s also important that renters read through privacy notices during the screening period, and ensure they raise any concerns or questions they might have. In states such as California, corporate renters and property management groups will need to disclose the information they obtained from renters, for what purpose, and rights assigned to individuals or renters to exercise their privacy rights. 

It’s not just in California where landlords are now coming under question in regards to the information they collect from their renters. Some states, such as Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia, among others, have changed and improved state privacy laws related to personal information. 

New York has also recently made changes to tenant privacy laws and looks to mitigate the sharing of tenants' data and information regardless of the point through which it has been collected. 

The Bottom Line 

Renters run an increased risk of exposure if not aware of the different points at which their personal information and data can be obtained. While smart technologies and systems have upgraded our homes, it’s also increased exposure to personal information. 

Landlords will need to take caution when implementing certain management systems to ensure they comply with state and local regulations. Above that, it’s advised they exercise due diligence when working with digital platforms and technologies to collect and store applicant information. 

Regardless of the position held, whether a tenant or a landlord, there are particulars required by each party to ensure a partisan agreement. More so, it’s important for tenants to have a clear understanding of their rights, and how they can be used to protect their personal information. 

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