2

A new law requires landlords to provide the following information about their tenants:

  • Name
  • Who is "head of household"
  • Phone number
  • Age (approximate)

Then the tenant is required to go to the town office and provide a state-issued id to confirm their identity.

I would like to know if this violates tenant privacy (or some existing law).

  1. If the lease has no tenant privacy statement, does that mean that no information can be disclosed by the landlord? Or does it mean that any information can be disclosed?

  2. If the lease has a privacy statement, does that prevent the disclosure of this information? Or does the new law over-ride what is written in the lease?

On several websites is says that landlords must not give out "private" information, but it is not clear to me if that means revealing the identity of a tenant.

The stated purpose of the new law is so that police and fire department will know who resides if they are called to a dwelling

In case it matters, this is in Pennsylvania.

  • 3
    This sound seriously questionable. Can you reveal any details about where the law was passed (town for example), or quote the text? – user6726 May 15 at 15:16
  • Related: Do private contracts supersede local/state/federal laws? It seems that the general principle is that any clause in a contract (such as a privacy statement) that requires a violation of the law is unenforceable. – Michael Seifert May 15 at 18:37
3

I suspect that the statute in question may be Section 11-104(1)(F) of municipal ordinances of the Town of Bloomsburg, PA, a university town (home to Bloomberg University of Pennsylvania, a public college) that purports to have special need for regulation based upon the large number of student rentals in the town and apparently applies primarily to house rentals to students. (If not, the ordinance in question may be modeled on this one, or this one may be modeled on the ordinance in question.) This ordinance imposes the following duties on people who have been granted landlord licenses, which the town requires of most landlords renting to students (a landlord is called the "owner" in the ordinance):

The owner shall maintain a current and accurate list of the occupants in each regulated rental unit or dormitory unit which shall include their name, permanent address and permanent telephone number which shall be available to the Town for inspection upon reasonable notice. The owner shall notify the Town of changes in the occupancy within 10 days of the change and shall provide the name of the person who is not longer residing in the premises in the event a person departs and the name, permanent address and permanent telephone number of new occupants in the event a new person is added.

On its face, this is probably valid. There is not a constitutional right to keep your own contact information or address, or your tenant's identity. Indeed, very similar requirements are routinely imposed upon operators of hotels and motels. And, I strongly suspect that in Pennsylvania, that towns of any reasonable population have more or less plenary authority to adopt ordinances that aren't specifically prohibited by other state or federal laws or constitutions or the town charter.

I do not believe that there are any federal statutes that prohibit a town from imposing such a requirement, barring extraordinary circumstances like a duty to cooperate with national security measures, witness protection programs, or a federal organized crime investigation that don't benefit the average tenant.

The kind of privacy policy and privacy disclosure laws in place at the national level apply mostly to health and financial information (and far more in Europe), but not generally to legally mandated disclosures of landlords to local governments. The requirements of a privacy policy don't apply here. The main federal privacy laws and some of the most notable state privacy laws are:

  • The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which affects websites that knowingly collect information about or targeted at children under the age of 13. Any such websites must post a privacy policy and adhere to enumerated information-sharing restrictions COPPA includes a "safe harbor" provision to promote Industry self-regulation.

  • The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act requires institutions "significantly engaged" in financial activities give "clear, conspicuous, and accurate statements" of their information-sharing practices. The Act also restricts use and sharing of financial information.

  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rules requires notice in writing of the privacy practices of health care services, and this requirement also applies if the health service is electronic.

  • The California Online Privacy Protection Act of 2003 – Business and Professions Code sections 22575-22579 requires "any commercial websites or online services that collect personal information on California residents through a web site to conspicuously post a privacy policy on the site".

Both Nebraska and Pennsylvania have laws treating misleading statements in privacy policies published on websites as deceptive or fraudulent business practices.

But, most of these laws apply only to Internet sharing of information by private firms, and the Nebraska and Pennsylvania laws don't require anyone to actually have a privacy policy. Those laws certainly don't pre-empt local ordinances.

There is at least one state law that should supply an exemption to this statute in Pennsylvania pertaining to confidentiality for domestic violence victims that should override contrary town ordinances.

Address Confidentiality Program (ACP): Victims can get a legal substitute address (usually a post office box) to use in place of their physical address; this address can be used whenever an address is required by public agencies. First class mail sent to the substitute address is forwarded to the victim's actual address.

Probably the most fruitful means by which an ordinance like this one could be challenged would be to argue that the true intent of the ordinances when adopted or as it has been subsequently applied, is to use it for a purpose that the town is not allowed to engage in, such as enforcing immigration laws, suppressing voting rights, imposing a de facto poll tax, or engaging in discrimination against a protected class in violation of state and federal fair housing laws.

College students, however, the expressly stated and plausible target of the ordinance, are not generally a protected class under fair housing legislation.

There are precedents upholding zoning regulations discriminating against households of "Dwelling units presently being used by three or more unrelated individuals" aimed at students and other kind of populations whom municipal busybodies often find to be undesirable against federal constitutional challenges. See, e.g., Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494 (1977) and Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U.S. 1 (1974). California's courts have been more hostile to this kind of legislation. See, e.g. City of Santa Barbara v. Adamson, 27 Cal. 3d 125 (Cal. 1980) (an op-ed arguing that this was wrongly decided in the L.A. Times in 1990 is here), but that isn't very helpful in Pennsylvania, and California rather than Pennsylvania is the outlier nationally on this kind of issue. The general issue over free association and privacy rights in connection with housing and unrelated individuals is discussed in an up to date manner in a 2016 Florida Law Review article.

Proving an improper purpose in an as applied or legislative intent based challenge to a facially neutral statute is very, very difficult in all but the most blatant cases (e.g. when town council members openly proclaim their improper purpose is that true purpose of the law).

No doubt recognizing the possibility of such a challenge to the ordinance, this particular ordinance has a particularly lengthy and detailed legislative declaration regarding its purpose that no doubt is an effort to take a position that it has a proper purpose in the event of future litigation. This states:

It is the purpose of this Part and the policy of the Town Council of the Town of Bloomsburg, in order to protect and promote the public health, safety and welfare of its citizens, to establish rights and obligations of owners and occupants relating to the rental of certain dwelling units and dormitory units in the Town of Bloomsburg and to encourage owners and occupants to maintain and improve the quality of rental housing within the community. It is also the policy of the Town that owners, managers and occupants share responsibilities to obey the various codes adopted to protect and promote public health, safety and welfare. As means to those ends, this Part provides for a system of inspections, issuance and renewal of occupancy licenses and sets penalties for violations. This Part shall be liberally construed and applied to promote its purposes and policies. In considering the adoption of this Part, the Town of Bloomsburg makes the following findings:

A. While the Town Council of the Town of Bloomsburg acknowledges the significant contribution that Bloomsburg University, its students, faculty and staff makes to the culture and economy of the Town of Bloomsburg, in recent years, adverse effects of student housing on residential neighborhoods have increased and there has been an increase in destructive student behavior that threatens the health, safety and welfare of the student citizens and non-student citizens of the Town of Bloomsburg.

B. Accordingly, the Town Council of the Town of Bloomsburg makes the following findings relating to student housing and its effect on the residential neighborhoods of the Town of Bloomsburg and the effect of student lifestyles on the health, safety and welfare of the student citizens and non-student citizens of the Town of Bloomsburg:

(1) When compared to other unrelated cohabitating individuals and traditional families, groups of students have different hours, work and social habits and frequently cause noise, disturbances and problems in residential neighborhoods.

(2) There is a greater incidence of violations of various codes of the Town at residential properties where owners rent such property to students.

(3) There is a greater incidence of problems with the maintenance and upkeep of residential properties where owners rent such property to students than at owner-occupied residential properties, family-occupied residential rental properties or residential properties that are occupied by unrelated persons who are not students.

(4) There is a greater incidence of disturbances which adversely affect the peace and quiet of the neighborhood at residential properties where owners rent to students than at owner-occupied residential properties, family-occupied residential rental properties or residential properties that are occupied by unrelated persons who are not students.

(5) A concentration of student homes changes the character of a neighborhood from one with traditional family values to one that cannot maintain those and approximately 90% of the Town's student homes are concentrated in two areas of the Town which displaces middle and lower income housing by absorbing housing units and rendering the remaining units less desirable for more traditional residential use.

(6) Since 1994, nine students have died as a result of fires in houses occupied by students; two students have died of alcohol overdose; one student has died as a result of exposure when he fell from a porch at a student party.

(7) Since 1997, 155 reports of disruptive conduct under the Town's Regulated Rental Unit Occupancy Ordinance involving student behavior have been filed.

(8) Since 1996, 73 prosecutions for unlawfully occupying premises while smoke or fire detectors were not operational have been filed against students.

(9) Since 1998, 295 prosecutions for underage drinking have been filed against students and 11 prosecutions were filed against non-student residents of the Town of Bloomsburg.

(10) Since 1998, 43 student parties have been raided where arrests were made for underage drinking and furnishing alcohol to minors.

(11) There are sufficient differences between student housing and nonstudent housing and the behavior of students and non-student residents to justify different regulations for each class of resident.

(12) Dwelling units presently being used by three or more unrelated individuals are being modified for occupancy by two students requiring the relocating of bearing walls and the modification of utilities, sanitation facilities, means of ingress and egress and smoke and fire detection systems.

(13) Inspections of dwelling units occupied by two students have revealed little or no life protecting equipment in the dwelling units such as smoke and fire alarms and detectors and fire extinguishers, over-loaded electrical services, heating systems needing servicing and the use of supplemental heaters, all of which create a dangerous living environment.

(14) There is a significant occurrence of disruptive behavior in dwelling units occupied by less than three unrelated students as compared to dwelling units that are occupied by owners, traditional families or unrelated persons who are not students.

(15) Students who remain in the occupancy of the premises for periods of time after they are no longer students contribute to the above-described problems.

(16) Because of the demand for student housing in the Town of Bloomsburg, developers have expressed interest in developing properties for use as dormitories where students live in rooms without fixed kitchen facilities.

(17) Dormitory type uses are not covered by the Regulated Rental Unit Occupancy Ordinance which applies only to dwelling units.

(18) The Town Council of the Town of Bloomsburg is desirous of providing the same protection and standards for students who reside in dormitories or dwelling units.

(19) The Town Council of the Town of Bloomsburg is desirous of imposing the same responsibilities upon owners of dormitory units and dwelling units where students reside.

(20) The Town Council of the Town of Bloomsburg finds that Bloomsburg University has sufficient resources and interest to properly manage dormitories owned by it and there is no need to regulate such dormitories.

Even though it probably isn't inherently invalid, it is unusual, so it is likely to be challenged if someone can find an angle to do so. And, I suspect that its purposes are not as pure as those formally identified in the text of the ordinance.

In conclusion, while I would totally hate to have an ordinance like that one in my town, it isn't obviously invalid and would probably survive a facial challenge in the absence of evidence that is was being applied in an illegally discriminatory manner.

  • The state-issued ID requirement burdens one's fundamental right to live where you want, and is not the least restrictive means of achieving the interest. However, that statute doesn't seem to have that requirement, so either the OP was wrong, or it's a different town. That's what set off the alarm for me. – user6726 May 16 at 1:37
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    @user6726 "The state-issued ID requirement burdens one's fundamental right to live where you want," I don't believe that there is such a constitutional right. There is a right to travel, but not a right to live where you want. Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926) stands for the opposite proposition and is still good law. – ohwilleke May 16 at 1:38
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    It is a different town, and the requirement for the tenant to show an ID is definitely in the statute. But even if that part was found to be invalid, there still remains the requirement for the landlord to identify the tenant (it contains a standard statement that if one part is invalid, the other parts remain valid). – reserve May 16 at 1:50
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    Some of this reminds me of the legal woes of Farmers Branch Texas when they tried to require landlords to validate renters' immigration status. Then end result is that Farmers Branch lost a lot of money and the law was struck down. – mark b May 16 at 15:09
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    If you're looking for a PA town that famously got in trouble with an immigration-oriented tenant registration ordinance, see Lozano vs City of Hazleton – user662852 May 16 at 20:24
-3

When you call 911, it's based on information someone has put into a computer. Obviously, if you have registered for a driver's license, some of your info will already be in the computer, but for cell phones and things like that that are not in some state ran database already, a human has to type it in the computer.

If you are a renter and the police get a call from that address, they can't magically know who lives there. Therefore, they want your contact information. Also, it lets them have an idea of what they will be dealing with before they get there.

There is no law saying that info can not be collected via a law, so therefore, you can make such a law.

-9

Saying a landlord can not give out private information does not apply to things he or she must convey under the law. If a town's law says the landlord must tell the police who lives there, he/she must comply.

The only things that are "rights" for a tenant can be found here https://www.moneyunder30.com/renters-rights

  • 7
    I can’t speak for the others but I downvote your answers because they are wrong and/or provide no support for their assertions. For example, a town law cannot override state or Federal law so this answer is self-evidently wrong. As for liking you, I’ve never met you so I can’t be definitely but I have no reason to believe that you are not a likeable person. – Dale M May 15 at 21:14
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    I don’t know but the important point is - neither do you and you are the one who posted what purports to be a definitive answer. – Dale M May 15 at 21:25
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    I would research it - if I found a law that did I would cite it, if I didn’t find one I would make my answer include the possibility that one might exist now or in the future – Dale M May 15 at 21:28
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    And what have 911 calls got to do with mandatory data reporting by landlords? – Dale M May 15 at 22:39
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    @putvi Sheriffs are not lawyers. Neither are their IT staff. Just because some sheriff says something is legal does not make it so. Cite the laws. Do real legal research. There are legal research sites, some of which are free or nearly free. I've also noticed most of your answers are wrong too. – mark b May 16 at 15:05

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