Posts Tagged ‘Equifax’

‘Free benefit’ or blacklisted? Hamilton tenants and landlords clash over private information

Monday, March 29th, 2021

‘Free benefit’ or blacklisted? Hamilton tenants and landlords clash over private information

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Seven tenants of a Hamilton apartment building say their personal information — including their names and rent payment histories — was taken by their landlord and submitted to a company without their consent.

The landlord, Live Well Property Management Ltd., entered the information into a database run by the Landlord Credit Bureau (LCB), a newly-licensed consumer reporting agency that boasts over 30,000 landlord and tenant users across North America.

The LCB tracks tenants’ payment habits and then transfers that data to Equifax, a multinational credit reporting agency which — through the information provided by the LCB — can either boost or lower a tenant’s credit score based on how promptly they pay their rent.

While some residents say their privacy has been breached, others worry about the consequences.

Dave Pace-Bonello and his partner Joey Nicole and their son Julian. They have lived at the building -- 94 East Ave. S. -- for 20 years.

The LCB database keeps a list of individual tenant records which — besides a name, email, address and rent history, among other pieces of data — contains reviews written by landlords detailing their experiences with a given tenant.

“If we paid our rent late because our paycheque didn’t land on the first of the month, what would that do to our credit?” asked Dave Pace-Bonello, who has lived in three-storey building at 94 East Ave. S. for the past two decades.

“If our landlord writes a bad review about us just because he doesn’t like us, and another landlord sees that, what does that do to our chances of finding another home?”

The residents at 94 East were informed they had been registered to the service through emails sent to them by the LCB within the past year.

The emails framed the bureau as a “free benefit” for tenants and an opportunity for them to get “an advantage over other applicants” on future lease applications.

Residents who are late with rent, leave without proper notice or cause damages “will likely find it more difficult to obtain tenancy and credit in the future as this information is shared with other landlords and credit bureaus,” the emails say.

Zachary Killam, president and CEO of the LCB, told The Spectator consent is not always required to collect a tenant’s data.

He said the company’s standing as a consumer reporting agency gives it the lawful right to gather information without consent insofar as a debt is owed or an agreement has been breached.

Ann Cavoukian, a former Ontario privacy commissioner, called the collection of information without consent an “appalling” practice.

While she sympathizes with landlords who want a resource to recoup late rent payments, she said such a resource can’t be created at the expense of tenants who are unaware their personal information is being shared.

“Everything has to be totally upfront with people understanding what they’re getting into,” said Cavoukian.

According to the LCB’s privacy policy, it can collect all sorts of data about tenants in addition to outstanding rent and landlord reviews, including IP addresses, passport and driver’s licence numbers, social insurance and security numbers, marital status and job history.

Killam said the LCB “does not currently collect all of those,” but did not specify what information is collected or how.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has launched an investigation into alleged privacy breaches committed by the LCB.

Spokesperson Vito Pilieci couldn’t comment on the status of the probe, but said federal legislation typically requires “meaningful consent” for the collection, use or disclosure of information.

Dave Pace-Bonello, his partner Joey Nicol and their son Julian in their apartment at 94 East Ave. S., where the family has lived for two decades. Pace-Bonello warned neighbours private information was taken by their landlord and submitted to a consumer reporting agency without their consent.

‘You have no reason to be worried’

Pace-Bonello and his longtime partner, Joey Nicol, asked Live Well management several times to remove their information off the LCB.

All but one request went unheeded.

In one email exchange dated March 24, 2020, Nicol asked her landlord, Matt Christie, why the couple’s information was taken without consent and to remove it from the LCB database.

“You have no reason to be worried,” replied Christie, who is listed as a director of Live Well in corporate records. “(You) always pay your rent on time and when you log in to LCB you will see that’s what has been recorded for you.”

A back-and-forth ensued.

“Consent is not required,” wrote Christie in a May 1 text to Pace-Bonello after Pace-Bonello again said he did not consent to the couple’s information being taken.

“I sent your request to the landlord. I’ll let you know the response once I have it,” he added.

“… and consent is 100 per cent not required.”

An excerpt of a text exchange between 94 East Ave. S. tenant Dave Pace-Bonello and his landlord, Matt Christie, who is a director of Live Well Property Management Ltd. Christie refuses to take Pace-Bonello's tenant information off the LCB database and says consent was not required to collect it.

By July 9, Christie agreed to remove the couple’s record from the LCB database, which included their names, move-in dates, email addresses, rent amount and address. He told them in an email that if rent ever went unpaid in the future, Live Well might reopen their record.

The ordeal left the couple deflated.

“It made me not trust our landlord anymore,” said Nicol of Christie. “I didn’t understand why he was so invested in the LCB but not in us, his tenants. He knew our concerns and he still didn’t address them, and he made me feel combative for sticking up for our family.”

Another tenant at 94 East, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution from Live Well, said she also struggled to remove her information off the LCB.

In one email with Marv Steier, a co-founder of the LCB who is no longer with the company, the tenant asked why she had to provide her SIN if the LCB reports to her credit agency.

“Your landlord is reporting your rent payments for your benefit,” wrote Steier in the email in late April 2020.

“I don’t want this ‘free benefit,’” the tenant replied. “My credit score has been over 800 for years, how would this benefit me?”

The tenant told The Spectator she didn’t consent to have her information collected and asked both the LCB and Live Well to have it removed. She said she never got a clear answer as to whether her record was deleted.

The Spectator posed several questions to Christie concerning the allegations that Live Well took tenants’ information without consent.

He responded with a statement about Pace-Bonello and Nicol.

“We’ve worked hard and considerably improved the standard of the building they live in and assisted them as needed, yet been subject to ongoing derogatory, rude and bullying behaviour from them towards our team,” Christie said via email.

Is the LCB impartial?

Ontario’s Consumer Reporting Act states if a credit agency collects negative or unfavourable information about an individual, there must be some form of effort on the part of the agency to corroborate that information.

The LCB said it does not accept anonymous information on its database and users’ identifications are verified prior to posts. They added landlord and tenant reviews are vetted by staff to ensure foul language and personal attacks are omitted.

“We do not allow false or vindictive reporting,” said Killam, the CEO, who noted consent from tenants is also required before a future landlord can look at their records.

However, it’s difficult to differentiate unfavourable information from fact if that information is subjective, argued Benjamin Reis, a housing lawyer with Downtown Legal Services at the University of Toronto.

“Information put into a consumer report must be based on the best available evidence,” said Reis. “Asking, ‘Tell me what you think about this tenant?’ is not what I think would be best evidence.

“What if we found out that the reason a landlord said, ‘Yes, I have a problem with this person,’ is because the landlord has a problem with people of colour? That’s quite possible.”

Killam said users are contractually bound to be non-discriminatory on the LCB platform. He also said tenants can access their own records and dispute them.

But a section of the LCB’s tenant record form — where landlords are asked six ‘yes or no’ questions about a person’s tenancy — puts that claim of impartial access under scrutiny.

A screenshot of a tenant's record form on the LCB database that is shared with landlord but not tenants.

“This information is NOT SHARED with the tenants but is shared with other landlords who search this tenant,” reads a disclaimer atop the questions, which range from whether the tenant paid rent late or were tried at court for breaching a lease agreement, to property damages or noise complaints.

Reis argued a company can’t claim to be impartial if it allows access to information to one set of users but not the other.

“This idea of a secret list where tenants don’t know if they’re on it, don’t know what was said about them or by who, that’s what most people think about when they think about a blacklist,” said Reis, adding “yes or no” questions also point to the LCB’s lack of due diligence.

“Instead of asking ‘yes or no’ whether the tenant was taken to court, why not include a copy of the decision so people get the facts?”

Douglas Kwan, director of advocacy and legal services of Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, echoed similar remarks about the LCB allowing landlord reviews.

“If you’re solely interested in a tenant’s ability to pay the rent, which is what their website says, what is the purpose of these reviews?” asked Kwan. “A landlord can make lots of comments that really have no place or doesn’t speak to whether a tenant can pay their rent.”

Both Reis and Kwan took issue with what they consider to be a conflict of interest in the LCB’s leadership.

According to corporate records obtained by The Spectator, Killam is one two directors at Live Well Property Management Ltd., which owns several properties in Hamilton and the GTA.

Killam said he hasn’t been actively involved with Live Well since 2018.

“There has never been a conflict of interest,” he said. “LCB is impartial and judicious in its operations and services.”

Reis argued the connection raises questions about neutrality, particularly with respect to consumer reporting agencies.

“Credit agencies like Equifax and TransUnion are institutions people are supposed to trust. But what if they were owned by someone who is also a director at a credit card company?” Reis asked.

“If Bell or Rogers claimed I owed a bill that I didn’t actually owe, I would expect that Equifax not be owned by Bell or Rogers.”

The LCB sues critical tenants

Killam and the LCB sued Pace-Bonello and Nicol for defamation and copyright infringement on Jan. 14.

According to a statement of claim filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia — a province where the LCB is listed under a different name than the corporation number registered in Ontario — the couple “sought to damage the business and reputation of the LCB and their directors” by creating a website that contains information about the agency.

The website is alleged to have accused the LCB of unlawful and unethical conduct, the claim states, and infringed the trademark and copyright of the LCB.

The agency is seeking a permanent injunction restraining the couple from ever writing or publishing information about the LCB that it believes to be defamatory.

Pace-Bonello, who plans to defend himself at the hearing, said he created the website in June after months of haggling with Live Well to remove his information from the LCB.

It was intended to be a resource for tenants at 94 East who received the same unprompted LCB registration email as the couple did.

“We thought about how many of our neighbours also received that email and had no clue what was going on,” he said.

Dave Pace-Bonello, his partner Joey Nicol and their son Julian. The family has lived at 94 East Ave. S. for 20 years.

The website contains detailed information about the LCB, its terms of service, and what rights tenants have related to consent. There is a disclaimer at the end of each post noting the website is not legal advice and for “community educational” purposes.

It received plenty of traction from neighbours, Pace-Bonello said.

One tenant at 94 East, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution from Live Well, said the site helped give context to that initial email from the LCB.

“If it weren’t for Dave and Joey, we wouldn’t know what (the LCB) was or why we should care or what our rights were,” said the tenant, who has lived in the building for three decades.

Pace-Bonello said he can understand why the LCB isn’t happy with the website — but he can’t understand why they are trying to silence him.

“They’re entitled to respond, absolutely. But to respond in a way that no further conversation can ever happen again, that doesn’t make any sense to me as a Canadian,” he said.

“When you see that someone wants to go to that length with you, rather than answer some of these questions and address these concerns in public, it’s shocking and it’s scary. It’s like the whole bottom falls out.”

For further reading click on Landlord Credit Bureau Facts.

Ontario Landlords: Tenant Screening and Tenant Credit Checks

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

 January 17th, 2014

Ontario landlords association tenant credit check 2014

What Are the Rules For Ontario Landlords to Do a Tenant Credit Check the Right Way?

(And What Happens If You Don’t? Because Tenants Are Complaining So Be Careful)

Landlords know the importance of renting to good tenants.

We have written about this before to warn Ontario landlords.

There are a lot of good tenants all over the province and they want to rent from you.

These tenants pay the rent on time and respect you and your rental property.

Landlords big and small are seeking these tenants who follow the rules and cooperate with their landlords for a win-win situation.

It’s especially important since the Ontario Rent Increase Guideline is only 0.8% as a recent Toronto Sun report explained.

Bad Tenants

There is also a large group of bad tenants out there.

Whether you are an Ottawa landlord, a Toronto landlord, own properties a bit north and are a Barrie landlord or anywhere else in the province you have surely heard about the damage bad tenants can do to landlords in Ontario.

These bad tenants know how to manipulate the system and will end up costing you thousands of dollars in losses and months of stress and frustration.

A Supreme Court Justice even said there are too many opportunities for bad tenants to take advantage of good landlords in Ontario. You can read what the judge said at the excellent column by our friend Bob Aaron at the Toronto Star.

Tenant Credit Checks

The Ontario Landlords Association has introduced tenant credit checks and their importance in a professional tenant screening system to thousands of landlords across the province.

We have excellent partners such as Equifax and GARDA.

They are authorized to conduct tenant credit checks and look into your potential tenant’s financial history.

These companies provide tools for landlords to succeed with their rental businesses by helping you rent to good tenants.

Are Some Landlords Doing It Wrong?

Yes, some are.

And you need to be careful.

We have received lots of emails from tenants who are claiming some landlords are obtaining their credit data in a fraudulent manner.

The tenants say their privacy rights have been stomped on by small landlords.

There have also been posts about this from tenants on the Ontario Landlords Forum.

For example a tenant wrote:

I’m looking for some advice on how to deal with a serious situation.

I take great care of my credit profile and my privacy. This year I was forced to look to rent a property near my work. After finding a property I was interested in the landlord said they would do an employment check, reference check and a credit check on me to see if I was qualified. I agreed they could.

Fast forward and I recently checked my credit report. At the time of my application there is now a ‘credit hit’ from a mortgage and real estate agent on my credit score. I did not apply for a mortgage or to buy a house! It is the only ‘credit hit’ for that time period.

I never agreed for a credit check from a mortgage or real estate agent. I never applied for a mortgage or to purchase a house. This will lead future creditors/landlords/anyone to think I wanted to buy my own place and applied for a mortgage. It will also lead to people mistakenly thinking I was refused a mortgage and failed to buy a place of my own.

I only authorized the landlord to do a credit check for the purpose of renting. I would like to know my options because this is a breach of my privacy rights.

With so many emails and an increasing number of tenant posts passionately explaining their serious concerns we decided to contact our partner Equifax Canada.

It seems some landlords are using friends or relatives who are Realtors or mortgage agents or insurance agents to get credit checks done on prospective tenants.

equifax ontario landlords

Our Interview With Equifax Canada

We contacted our partner Equifax Canada and spoke with them about the ‘right way’ for landlords to conduct tenant credit checks.

Here are our questions and the answers that follow:

1. Can I Call my Relative or Friend To Do the Credit Check For My Potential Tenant?

If the landlord uses a mortgage agent, Realtor, etc. to access potential tenants credit data for them, and the tenant didn’t agree and these tenants contact Equifax what will happen?

What are the penalties that could occur?

ANSWER FROM EQUIFAX

No.

Given the nature of the existing credit reporting/privacy legislation and the terms of use (agreement) by the Equifax member, the consumer can report this type of unacceptable activity to the Ministry of Consumer Services, who will then investigate.

Any inappropriate use or breach of contract could lead to termination of membership with Equifax.

 2. Mortgage Agents, Realtors, Insurance Agents, Car Dealerships

Several landlords say they have used friends who are mortgage agents, Realtors, etc. for years to access tenant credit data and nothing happened and there is nothing wrong using this method to obtain credit data on potential tenants.

What is the best response to their claims?

ANSWER FROM EQUIFAX

See above and below for more details.

Equifax must disclose the actual entity that received the file.

3. What About Third Parties to Obtain Credit Data?

Some landlords have a waiver on their application form saying they will use a “third party” to obtain credit data on a potential tenant (they don’t say who will do the check, only that it will be a third party).

They then contact a friend who is a mortgage agent, Realtor, insurance broker, someone who works at a car dealership, etc. to do the credit check on the potential tenant for them. 

They wonder if the waiver clause allows them to use a ‘friend’ is okay.

ANSWER FROM EQUIFAX

The service agreement signed by EACH of our members clearly articulates that they will not “share” a credit file with another entity: the credit file is for their exclusive use ONLY.

Any entity that does share is in violation of this agreement.

4. Tenants Complaining About Unauthorized Credit Checks

Some tenants complain they have a ‘credit hit’ on their credit reports from mortgage agents, insurance agents, etc. which they never agreed to (as they only wanted to rent an apartment). 

How can tenants get these unauthorized credit hits off their records?

ANSWER FROM EQUIFAX

Due to privacy legislation, once Equifax delivers a file to a member, we MUST post an inquiry (by law).

As such, we do not remove these inquiries as they are factual and the consumer has a legal right to know their file has been disclosed.

5. What Can Tenants Do?

Some tenants who have credit hits from people they never authorized have asked if they should contact the Ministry of Consumer Services to make formal complaints that their credit data was obtained fraudulently. They would like advice on this.

ANSWER FROM EQUIFAX

Yes, they should contact the Ministry of Consumer Services who will launch an investigation.

They can reach also reach Equifax directly at the following telephone numbers to lodge a complaint and we will do an investigation:

English: 1-866-828-5961

French: 1-877-323-2598

Ontario Landlords And Tenant Screening 2014

Let’s work together to make 2014 the most successful year ever for landlords across Ontario.

Tenant screening is an essential part of being a successful landlord.

Make sure you follow the rules and find great tenants for your rental properties.

High quality tenant credit companies such as Equifax and GARDA are waiting to assist you.