Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - September 13, 2013

RentWatch

Must a tenant give out a Social Security number?

edited by Martin Eichner

Q My family and I moved to our apartment two years ago. We have paid our full rent on time, every month. Last week, the apartment manager said the ownership has a new policy that requires me to give her my Social Security number. She said if I failed to do so, she would terminate my tenancy.

I don't have a Social Security number. My husband and I are undocumented immigrants from Mexico, and we aren't authorized to get Social Security numbers. I pay taxes using my Taxpayer I.D. number.

When I filled out the rental application two years ago, I gave my Taxpayer I.D. number, a copy of my pay stub and a copy of my consular I.D. I don't see why the owners need a Social Security number now, after two years of being good tenants. There are several Hispanic families in our building, and I think the owners are trying to find out which families are undocumented. Can the apartment owner evict us now because I don't have a Social Security number or because we are undocumented?

A Under California law, housing providers are not allowed in most cases to ask about or demand proof of tenants' immigration status. They can't require proof of immigration status as a part of the application process, and they can't make it a requirement for staying in an apartment. However, a property owner is allowed to ask for the information or documents they need to verify the identity and financial qualifications of a rental applicant.

In your case, you gave the property owner several forms of financial documentation, so it looks like she had enough information to do a credit check and confirm your identity without a Social Security number. If the financial information was insufficient at the time of your application, we would assume you would have been notified at the time of your application. Instead the owners accepted your application and allowed you to occupy the unit.

In addition, you have already been living in the apartment for two years, so it is difficult to imagine any legitimate reason your landlord would need to obtain your Social Security number at this point in your tenancy. It may be the manager or owners suspect you are undocumented and are trying to intimidate you for some reason — perhaps you have asked for repairs. In a building with many Hispanic families, demanding a Social Security number or other proof of immigration status may be an indication of national origin discrimination. You should contact your local fair housing agency to obtain help to preserve your tenancy and respond to the owners' request for your Social Security number.

Martin Eichner edits RentWatch for Project Sentinel, an organization that provides landlord-tenant dispute resolution and fair-housing services in Northern California, including rental-housing mediation programs in Palo Alto, Los Altos and Mountain View. Call 650-856-4062 for dispute resolution or 650-321-6291 for fair housing or email info@housing.org.

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