Can a Landlord Ask For a Child’s Social Security Number?

As part of the rental application process, landlords ask a potential tenant for many things.

They may include financial information, income verifications, references, rental history and much more. They may also ask for a tenant’s social security number to verify identity and run credit and background checks.

But in some cases, a landlord may ask for your child’s social security, which may understandably raise some red flags.

After all, there does not seem to be any rational reason why a landlord would need that information. Children (and I am talking about minor children, not children who have grown up and are over 18) cannot sign the lease nor be liable for obligations under the lease (including rental payments).

If you are wondering whether this type of request by a landlord is even permissible, you are in the right place.

In this article, I am going to answer whether a landlord can ask for a child’s social security number. I will also provide some background rules relating to fair housing and privacy that relate to this issue, and tips on what tenants can do when faced with this type of request.

If you have don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:

As a general matter, landlords should not ask for a minor child’s social security number in connection with a rental application. Minors cannot be parties to a lease and are not bound by its provisions, so there is no legitimate legal or practical reason for a landlord to insist on receiving this information.

Ok – let’s get into it.

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only.  It is not legal advice.  You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.

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Why Do Landlords Ask For It?

I think you all know what a social security number is, so I won’t get into that, but it’s basically the nine digit number issued by the US government (the Social Security Administration to be exact) that is used to identify people for tax purposes and to keep track of the earnings and eligibility for social security benefits down the road.

It’s also commonly used for a variety of other purposes, including by credit bureaus to track an person’s credit history and score.

But why would a landlord want to know a tenant’s social security number? It is basically so that they can verify the identity of the tenant and order credit reports.

Now if they ask for it, they have to very careful to make sure they comply with applicable laws. One key law is the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). It requires that landlords adhere to various procedures when using consumer reports to screen tenants. It also has reuqirements on storage and security of this data. It’s for this reason that I never ask for social security numbers from my tenants. You can accomplish all of the identity checks and credit checks with out it (more of how to do that later).

Under the FCRA, a landlord must have a permissible purpose for obtaining a consumer report (such as a credit report) and must obtain the tenant’s written consent before doing so. The landlord must also provide the tenant with a copy of the report and a summary of their rights under the FCRA.

So, can a landlord ask for a child’s social security number? As we referenced above, when the child is a minor the answer is no. When the child is not a minor and is going to be living in the rental and signing the lease, the answer is yes.

Another factor to consider is fair housing laws. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords are prohibited from discriminating against potential tenants based on familial states – this specifically includes any discrimination because a tenant has children. Source.

If the landlord is requesting the child’s social security number to discriminate in any way against a tenant who has children, that would be a violation of law.

Risks to Landlord Who Ask For and Get This Information

If a landlord requests and obtains this information, in addition to the issues they may face above, they will need to make sure they handle that information appropriately.

As mentioned already, under the FCRA, a landlord must handle this type of personally identifiable information carefully and securely. If they do not, they could face liability if that information gets leaked and used for unlawful purposes (like identity theft).

It’s for this reason that I don’t ask for social security numbers at all for any of my tenants (both adults and children). Instead, I ask for a government issued id (like a driver’s license) to confirm identity and then have them request a credit report themselves and send it to me.

The service I use to do this is Transunion’s Smartmove product. Under this tool, the tenant fills out the request for the credit report that should be released to me. They provide their social security number on the website and I never need to have access to it.

Here a link to Smartmove if you are interested. If you are a tenant, you may want to suggest this option to your landlord – you can even offer to shoulder the cost of the credit report, which is in line with the cost of credit reports you can obtain elsewhere.

In my view, it’s the best option.

Alternatives to a Social Security Number

If a landlord is using the social security number for a purpose other than to pull a credit and background report, there are other options.

The main reason that a landlord may want a social security number (other than pulling a credit report) is to verify identity.

If that’s the purpose (and as a tenant, you should ask your landlord why they want the information), then better options include a passport, birth certificate or driver’s license (for people who are eligible for one).

Closing Thoughts

So there you have it – a clear answer to whether a landlord may legitimately request a child’s social security number. Hope this has been helpful and happy landlording.

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