B.C.’s tight rental market has landlords asking personal questions

B.C.'s tight rental market has landlords asking personal questions
Condos and apartment buildings are seen in downtown Vancouver, B.C., on February 2, 2017. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver says demand continues to be high for attached homes and condominiums in Metro Vancouver and less so for detached homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VICTORIA:  British Columbia’s privacy office says some landlords are asking prospective tenants for too much personal information including three months worth of bank statements, inquiring whether applicants were born in Canada and having them complete a behavioural questionnaire.

Drew McArthur, the province’s acting information and privacy commissioner, says 1.5 million people live in rental housing, representing about 30 per cent of all households in B.C., but the vacancy rate is so low across much of province that landlords are taking advantage of the power imbalance.

In a report, McArthur says his office receives calls daily from people worried about the over-collection of their personal information, but many feel they have no choice but to provide it so they don’t miss out on a place to live.

He says much of the information landlords require is protected by the Human Rights Code, but people concerned about their rights often don’t want to be identified or file a complaint for fear they’ll be blacklisted.

McArthur says landlords are authorized to collect a reasonable amount of information, such as references.

Sometimes age can be required for rental properties restricted to people over 55, but he says landlords cannot search for someone’s information on the internet or ask invasive questions, including whether an applicant plans to become pregnant within the next year.

The privacy office’s investigation is based on a review of 13 tenancy applications.

McArthur says people trying to rent have reported various incidents, including being asked about their immigration status and having to provide a copy of their child’s report cards.