Do I Have to Give My Social Security Number to a Prospective Landlord?

With all the identity fraud going on these days, people want to keep their Social Security Numbers (SSN), bank account numbers, credit card numbers, etc. personal and private — and with good reason! But out of these things, the most important thing you should keep private is your SSN because that is the one major thing that thieves can use to open credit in your name, steal your tax refund check, and generally abuse it in other nefarious ways.

But what do you do when you fill out an application to lease a property and see that space requesting that you to put your SSN? Now, while here is no law that requires you to provide this information, the landlord can require it if you want him or her to consider your application. The reason a landlord needs this is information is because to pull a credit report on you and verify all the other information you put onto your lease application, they need your SSN.

There aren’t really many options to get around this requirement, but there are a few that you can and should consider. Of course, before you go about exploring these alternatives to providing your SSN, let the landlord know why you do not want to provide it upfront, or else they're going to be suspicious that something is amiss. The first thing you can do is fill out your lease application in full and sign it, but leave off your SSN. Many landlords might take several applications and may not even consider yours if other lease candidates are a better fit for their property. This means that they might not even ever pull a credit report for you, but your lease application still may have your SSN on it when they throw it in the trash. That in turn could easily lead to identity theft.

If you do not want to put it on the initial application, you can explain to the landlord about how you often hear about identity fraud, and how you would prefer not to provide that number until after the landlord has reviewed your application and is pretty sure that they are going to rent the property to you. Some landlords may not go for this and may say, "No SSN, no lease application review for you!" In that situation, you will have to make a determination about what works best for you.

Either way, the more professional and respectful you are, and the better you convey your reasoning to the owner, the better the chances are that they will consider your request. Many might actually be pretty impressed and happy that you are concerned enough to carefully protect your personal information and identity.

Regardless, if you are not selected for the apartment, you should request that the owner properly destroys your lease application by shredding it or otherwise disposing of it in a way that will prevent identity fraud.

Another alternative to providing your SSN is to pull your own credit report, though this will probably work best if the landlord is a single unit owner and not the owner of an entire apartment building. You could offer to pull your own credit report in front of them and hand it to them so that they know it is authentic. If you do that, you can also black out your SSN before you hand them the report. Some landlords may go for this, but again, you need to convince them why it is reasonable for them to accept it.

There is also a service called SmartMove from Transunion credit reporting service. With this service, the landlord initiates a credit report request to you, via the service, and you get an email requesting your SSN be inputted on their secure website. You then input your SSN and it'll email the credit report to the landlord with all your information, but not your SSN. I have a few friends who are property owners, and they have used this service and found it very simple, affordable, and easy to use. This is just one other option you can try to protect that SSN from potential identity fraud and issues.

It’s tough to protect ourselves these days because computers and the Internet make it much easier for a bad person to take advantage of you and steal your money, bank accounts, etc. if they can get your SSN. Just do your best to protect yourself a little more and hopefully you’ll avoid any major identity theft issues in the future.