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What privacy rights do tenants have?

Tenants have various privacy rights that protect both their information as well as their physical privacy. For instance, a landlord may only enter the unit at reasonable times and for reasonable purposes. It also means the tenant should be able to enjoy the unit without the landlord or another tenant looking through the windows.

Tenants also have information and data privacy rights. The information the landlord collects from the tenant in the Rental Application and credit check, typically, cannot be shared with others unless there is prior authorization. Privacy issues may also arise with shared Wi-Fi networks or other shared utilities.

Do Lease Agreements have a privacy policy by default or by law?

It is customary for a Lease Agreement to contain provisions that require tenants to not interfere with other tenants rights to use the property, as well as provisions specifying when the landlord may enter the unit. 

Leases will usually identify the reasons a landlord may enter and the notice that needs to be given when doing so. Many cities and states may have specific laws. In others, a more subjective reasonable standard is employed. A lease may provide the tenant more privacy but typically cannot force the tenant to give up rights provided under the law.

If the landlord wants to hold the tenant to a privacy policy, it should be incorporated into the Lease Agreement, such as in a nuisance clause that explains that tenants cannot interfere with the rights of other tenants. It may be worth noting, however, that many types of privacy invasions may also be criminal acts or lead to civil legal liability.

You generally cannot force a tenant to follow new rules not covered by the lease they signed, unless they agree to a Lease Amendment that includes the new rules. If the landlord is disclosing their own privacy policy for the tenant's benefit, such as one for a website or online payment portal, it may be through a separate document.

When do landlords need a separate policy to protect tenant privacy?

It is a good business practice to inform tenants about how their information will be collected and used. Having a statement about how an applicant's information will be used in a Rental Application can give applicants confidence that their potential landlord is trustworthy and communicates clearly.

In some situations, you may be legally required to disclose how you will use the information you collect or to provide tenants with a copy of the information you receive about them, including background checks and credit reports. State or local laws may have additional requirements, so it may be best to ask a lawyer about the legal requirements that apply to your situation. Some disclosures may not be appropriate to include in the lease, because certain types of notices must be provided separately. 

If you collect information online, such as through a website or online service, you may need to post an Online Privacy Policy on your website or confirm the service's policy meets your state or local requirements.

What happens when one tenant violates another's privacy?

If your tenant violates their obligations under a privacy policy, it could be a breach of the lease. Common penalties include a warning, fine, or possible eviction. This of course depends on the severity of the incident(s), terms of your lease, and local law.

If a tenant commits a criminal act, such as hacking another tenant's Wi-Fi, you may report it to the police as well as notify the tenant of the lease violation. Even if the act does not violate a specific lease term, many leases have provisions related to crimes that would allow you to take action. Before reporting a tenant to the authorities, it may be smart to discuss the matter with an attorney to ensure the issue does not escalate.

Is it legally required to secure a tenant's private data?

Yes. If you collect private information, you are generally required to safeguard that information. The type of information tenants provide on rental applications, or as required by their lease, is often highly desirable to criminals engaged in identity theft.

If a landlord fails to secure tenant data and that data is stolen, they can potentially face a lawsuit. Tenants have an expectation that you will take reasonable steps to protect their data from theft or loss. If a landlord does not do anything to protect the information, they may be liable for the financial harm to a tenant that results from a data breach.

What should landlords do if they are hacked?

If you are hacked, you may want to notify your tenants immediately so they can safeguard their identities. It may be wise to speak with an attorney to determine how to notify tenants while protecting your own legal rights.

Some hacked businesses will offer free credit monitoring services to those impacted by a data breach. This can help limit the harm to those impacted and, by doing so, also limit the potential legal liability to the business.

To learn more about your privacy policy obligations and what to include in your lease, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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