In a crowded world where our lives overlap and intersect both physically and digitally, ensuring tenant privacy is crucial.
As individuals, we value our privacy. We trust people we feel we can open up to and we’re careful with our personal information. We gravitate towards businesses that have proven themselves to be protectors of critical data and information. If you hear the term “security breach” in the news, you likely will have a moment of worry that your information may have been compromised.
So, what do privacy policies mean in the world of rental properties? In the case of landlords and tenants, how privacy is handled can establish a lasting relationship of trust and respect. Additionally, how you as a landlord manages a renter’s privacy can speak volumes about your business and reputation, without having to say a word.
Take Your Tenant’s Privacy Seriously
As a landlord, you must provide a safe and secure place for your tenants to live. This applies to both the physical building and environment they reside in, as well as online (but we’ll get to online a little bit later). The exterior of your building needs to be in tip-top shape or you know you’ll have a lawsuit on your hands. Sidewalks need to be shoveled, lightbulbs replaced in hallways, windows and doors must lock properly. This is all basic stuff. But beyond shared spaces, how can you ensure the safety of your tenants while still maintaining their privacy?
How to Manage Tenants’ Privacy at Your Property
When is it okay to enter the unit? You as the landlord have a right to entry, but you must be careful to balance this against your tenant’s right to privacy. You may not enter your tenant’s unit at will and look through their belongings. You must have a valid reason to enter the unit and provide proper notice about your entry (unless your tenant grants you permission in advance).
When advanced notice must be provided:
- To make repairs, such as fix a broken stove, replace a door, or repair the heating unit.
- To inspect a property for safety concerns, maintenance problems, or pest removal.
- Showing the rental unit to a prospective tenant towards the end of the lease.
- To show the unit to a potential purchaser of the property.
In some (rare) instances, advanced notice is not required for you to enter the property; cases of an emergency, such as a fire or flood, or if you suspect a problem with utilities, such as a broken pipe.
Protecting Your Tenants’ Privacy Online
Regular news reports about data breaches, stolen identities, and more have made it obvious that people need to be concerned about their personal data online. You as a landlord, are no exception.
The consequences of identity theft can be as devastating as a physical accident. If an investigator is able to trace the theft to negligence on your part as the landlord, you could be held liable. Most online criminals know that they can obtain credit card and social security numbers if they are able to hack into a property management company’s database. Even if you have limited technical knowledge, you need to ensure that you can guard against an online tenant data breach.
Here are some key things to keep in mind on how to keep your tenant’s data safe:
Use Firewalls and Passwords
Do not store your tenant’s data in an unprotected file on your computer. If you are going to store your tenant’s sensitive information on your computer, you need to ensure you have what it takes to protect it. The very minimum you should do enable firewall protection on your computer. You can add a second level of protection by using a password-protected Wi-Fi connection when accessing their information.
Use hard-to-guess passwords, and change them often. Something simple like “123456” can be guessed quickly; a complex password is more difficult for someone to guess, and frequently changing the password will keep you one step ahead. Encourage tenants to do the same with any online access they have to your company. If they pay rent, submit maintenance requests, or renew their lease online, make sure your tenant portal is secure with firewalls in place.
Every day, hackers are improving their skills and getting better at tricking you with links that mimic your familiar sites. One wrong click and you can automatically download malware that will render your security useless.
Be sure to read up on malware and how they work. More importantly, avoid clicking on links that you aren’t sure of. Even the savviest of users can be fooled by a hacker’s copycat site.
Consider using a separate computer for managing your tenant data. This will ensure that whatever happens on your private computer will not affect your business data.
We know you can manage your own files, but in some cases, it’s better to use an online property management system. This can be one of the most reliable ways to avoid having your data compromised.
Professional services can protect you by transmitting data using only secure HTTPS protocol, limiting the amount of data it stores, encrypting all data stored in secure servers, and submitting regular audits by third-party firms to ensure security.
If you are considering a professional service, here are a few we recommend:
How to Store Tenant Data on Your Own
Property management companies do cost money for the services they provide. If your budget doesn’t allow you to hire professionals, remember these tips for keeping data secure:
- Access data only when using a secure, password-protected Wi-Fi network.
- Install high-quality, anti-malware software and make sure it updates regularly.
- Set up a firewall.
- Enable 2-step authentication; for example, have a verification code sent to your mobile phone when you access files on your computer.
- Avoid storing credit cards and social security numbers. If you must keep them, store them separately from corresponding names and addresses (this may require a separate tracking system on your part).
- Activate a tracking system on your laptop in case your computer is stolen and the data is compromised.
What Happens if There is a Tenant Data Breach?
No matter how prepared you are, a breach can still occur. Hackers are sophisticated and savvy, and even the best-laid plans can be compromised. How you respond and move forward from a breach for yourself and your tenants is important.
Privacy is a serious topic. As a landlord, you must ensure that you are providing a safe and secure environment for your tenants to live, as well as keeping their information safe. It is important to stay informed and stay vigilant in today’s changing world data security. Always implement best practices to ensure your tenants are safe and secure, both in their homes and online. Ensuring their safety and security is the first step in what could become a long and trusted relationship with your tenants.
Visit our Apartments and Property Management blog for more helpful resources on how keep yourself, your tenants, and your properties safe and successful.