How to Screen and Select Tenants FAQ

There are many good reasons why landlords typically request that all prospective tenants provide their Social Security number (SSN). For one thing, you may need the Social Security number or other identifying information, such as a passport, to request an applicant’s credit report.

But what if you encounter an applicant who does not have an SSN (only citizens or immigrants authorized to work in the United States can obtain one)? For example, someone with a student visa will not normally have an SSN. If you categorically refuse to rent to applicants without SSNs, and these applicants happen to be foreign students, you’re courting a fair housing complaint.

Fortunately, nonimmigrant aliens (such as people lawfully in the U.S. who don’t intend to stay here permanently, and even those who are here illegally) can obtain an alternate piece of identification that will suit your needs as well as an SSN. It’s called an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), and is issued by the IRS to people who expect to pay taxes. Most people who are here long enough to apply for an apartment will also be earning income while in the U.S. and will therefore have an ITIN. Consumer reporting agencies and tenant screening companies can use an ITIN to find the information they need to effectively screen an applicant.

Keep in mind, however, that an ITIN number is not proof of legal status in the U.S. The IRS does not research the tax­payer’s immigration status before handing out the number.

If you’re concerned about illegal housing discrimination, be sure you’re aware of subtle actions that might be illegal discrimination, such as setting more restrictive standards for certain tenants.

Need help screening tenants?

Find great tenanats and easily create a rental application using Nolo's bestselling products.
Every Landlord's Guide to Finding Great Tenants Choosing tenants is a landlord's most important (and most risky) decision -- find out how to do it safely and legally! Let this book guide you through the process of attracting, screening and selecting the best renters available. Buy the book >>
Residential Rental Application Use this easy-to-use form to hand out to prospective renters. This form includes information you'll need as a landlord from prospective tenants. Buy the form >>
Talk to a Lawyer If you have questions about your landlord issues, get advice from a landlord/tenant lawyer near you.

Books, Forms & eGuides