Digital tool for landlords measures potential tenants' kindness, cleanliness
Jeff Lagerquist, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Saturday, March 10, 2018 2:27PM EST
Another Canadian tech startup is helping landlords and property managers leverage the power of big data and artificial intelligence to weed out potentially undesirable tenants before handing over the keys.
Victoria-based Certn combs through more than 100,000 online data points, everything from social media posts to criminal convictions to eviction notices, in order to build a risk profile for each consenting applicant. The company even offers behavioral analysis questionnaires to gauge things like ethics, honesty, intelligence, attitudes and beliefs.
“You can assess things like how clean the person is likely to be, their level of kindness,” Certn co-founder Andrew McLeod told CTV Vancouver Island on Friday. “The big thing to note is that we don't look at images.”
Renting has become a high-stakes game for everyone involved. It’s often the only option for young urban dwellers. And those that own pricey properties in Canada’s largest cities are increasingly looking to rent out excess space to keep up with mortgage payments and rising property costs.
Digital tenant screening solutions like those on offer from Certn, and its Canadian competitor Naborly, can be powerful tools for landlords in saturated rental markets like Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto.
Many landlords are likely to conduct their own amateur internet searches on potential renters in order to protect their assets. But using companies that scour the internet to build a comprehensive history of applicants, complete with numerical rankings for character and personality traits, raises the question of how much personal information renters should reasonably expect to hand over.
“It’s very hard to see how information that is disclosed on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter would be related to a tenant suitability decision,” said Acting Deputy B.C. Privacy Commissioner Bradley Weldon. “If you are collecting more information than is necessary, which would almost certainly include information that is in a social media platform . . . then you are likely in contravention of PIPPA.”
The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPPA) applies to the collection, use or disclosure of personal information in the course of a commercial activity. One of the legislation’s principles warns against collecting personal information indiscriminately.
According to the Privacy Commissioner’s office, landlords should be asking whether someone has been a good tenant in the past, and the hunt for additional information should be conducted with that in mind.
McLeod argues the current privacy legislation is outdated. He said Certn has extended an invitation to the privacy commissioner’s office to work together on an update.
“Privacy is huge, and we've been very forthcoming with the privacy commissioner's office,” McLeod said. “I think generally they've been positive with what we've come forward with, especially when it comes to consent. We're millennials. We built this product for tenants as tenants, and not the other way around.”
He insists Certn’s services could benefit renters without the traditional information landlords ask for, like a credit score, and help landlords make more informed decisions.
“By using our system, our landlords and property managers are able to approve 40 per cent more applicants than they were in the past. And we've been able to reduce defaults statistically up to 75 per cent,” McLeod said. “This is a great thing for renters. Typically in the rental market now it’s first-come, first-serve, and it’s not the best tenant being chosen.”
With a report from CTV Vancouver Island’s Yvonne Raymond