Question: My family and I moved to our apartment two years ago. We have paid our full rent on time, every month. Last week, the apartment manager said the ownership has a new policy that requires me to give her my Social Security number. She said if I failed to do so, she would terminate my tenancy.
I don't have a Social Security number. My husband and I are undocumented immigrants from Mexico, and we aren't authorized to get Social Security numbers. I pay taxes using my taxpayer identification number. When I filled out the rental application two years ago, I gave my taxpayer ID number, a copy of my pay stub and a copy of my consular ID.
I don't see why the owners need a Social Security number now, after two years of us being good tenants. There are several Latino families in our building, and I think the owners are trying to find out which families are undocumented. Can the apartment owner evict us now because I don't have a Social Security number or because we are undocumented?
Answer: Under California law, housing providers are not allowed in most cases to ask about or demand proof of tenants' immigration status. They can't require proof of immigration status as a part of the application process, and they can't make it a requirement for staying in an apartment.
However, a property owner is allowed to ask for the information or documents needed to verify the identity and financial qualifications of a rental applicant. In your case, you gave the property owner several forms of financial documentation, so it looks like she had enough information to do a credit check and confirm your identity without a Social Security number.
If the financial information was insufficient at the time of your application, we would assume you would have been notified at the time of your application. Instead the owners accepted your application and allowed you to occupy the unit. In addition, you have already been living in the apartment for two years, so it is difficult to imagine any legitimate reason your landlord would need to obtain your Social Security number at this point in your tenancy.
It may be the manager or owners suspect you are undocumented and are trying to intimidate you for some reason — perhaps you have asked for repairs. In a building with many Latino families, demanding a Social Security number or other proof of immigration status may be an indication of national origin discrimination. You should contact your local fair housing agency to obtain help to preserve your tenancy and respond to the owners' request for your Social Security number.
Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.