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Tip #36: Keeping Secrets
If you’ve done your job as a landlord, your tenant files contain some highly personal information.
Businessman at beachWhile all of our favorite new technologies allow us more freedom of movement when we work – we are no longer chained to a desk, this same ease in communication and data storage also gives thieves easier access to confidential tenant information.
A recent case points to the problem: the information on more than 1,390 tenants, including social security numbers and medical information, along with the names of children, their addresses, ages and the schools they attend, was posted on an Internet-accessible page.
In this case, the private information was ‘hacked’ by a tenant advocacy group that widely publicized the breach to prove the point of what could happen to tenants in the wrong situation.
Whether required by state privacy laws or to avoid lawsuits for breach of privacy, maintaining confidentiality when it comes to tenant information is a high priority.
Here are some things to consider:
1. Whether you choose to store hard-copy files or computer files, having your data in more than one place, for instance a hard-copy application scanned into a computer file, doubles the risk of exposure.
2. If you imagine tenant information as thieves do — like it is cash, it’s easier to see how to protect it: always keep it locked up, never leave it out on your desk, your computer screen, stuffed in your car or backpack, or leave it sitting on the table unattended at a coffee shop or a restaurant.
3. If you only keep information that is valuable, either legally or financially, you lower the risk of inadvertently exposing something private.
4. When it comes to storage, you are in it for the long haul. You don’t want to keep files any longer than you need to — but with tenant files, that’s a very long time. Ask your lawyer and accountant for their opinions, but they are likely to tell you 7-10 years.
See last week’s Landlord Quick Tip.
American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for landlords related to your commercial housing investment, including real estate forms, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at www.joinaaoa.org.

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