In a major reversal of policy the company says it will be revealing the “secret” database field to tenants. The field was previously only viewable by other landlords, raising serious concerns about potential abuse. This represents a major victory for tenants rights across the country but it is a change that isn’t without its own controversies.
Previously, the Tenant Record generated by Landlord Credit Bureau had a field called “Landlords Experience Regarding This Tenancy” which consisted of six yes or no questions. It was made clear that this field was not shared with tenants, only other landlords.
Once the existence of the secret field was made public, Landlord Credit Bureau made a series of alterations to the tenant record which we documented here:
On Friday April 16th, this message was posted to the Landlord section of the LCB website:
There is some cause for celebration here because this secret field was potentially truly insidious. Imagine being a tenant on LCB and your record looks clean on your end, yet you keep getting denied apartments. You might never know the reason was a past landlord decided to answer “Yes” to one or more of the six questions. If you can’t see what you are being accused of, how can you correct it?
Making this field transparent to all users is a major victory for tenants who were being exploited by this field hidden to the advantage of landlords. What remains are serious concerns about how they are going about this process of “transparency”.
Note that the landlord is asked if they want to keep their responses as is or to reset the whole field in bulk for all their tenants. If the landlord doesn’t respond to this question by April 30th, LCB says they will reset the questions in the field.
We believe tenants have a right to see what their landlords reported about them in that field when they thought it was going to be a secret. Allowing landlords to reset their answers or resetting by default if landlords don’t respond in time denies tenants access to information that never should have been hidden from them in the first place and permits landlords to conceal potential abuse of this formerly landlords-only field.
If a landlord wrongly reported a tenant on one of the six questions and the reporting may have harmed the rental prospects of that tenant they have a right to know. They have a right to pursue their landlord for damages if they feel like this field was unfairly used against them. By wiping out the entries in this field before tenants get a chance to see them, Landlord Credit Bureau is essentially wiping out the evidence tenants would need in order to prove abuse or malfeasance on the part of their landlord.
It also demonstrates a shocking lack of confidence in the integrity of their data. Landlord Credit Bureau is so concerned about how landlords have been using this secret field that it would prefer to wipe the whole record clean rather than risk letting tenants see what was recorded in there.
Take note of the timing. They make the announcement on the website on the 16th of April. The landlord is told if they don’t answer by April 30th their answers in that field for all tenants will be reset. May 3rd they are going to let tenants see the field. Most landlords won’t be logging in to the site between April 16th and the 30th – by the 15th most reporting is finished for the month. It’s safe to assume many landlords won’t be logging in until May 1st and finding their records reset.
No proactive email communication went out to landlords or tenants about this major change. Nothing that would prompt the landlord to go log in and check their answers for accuracy. Nothing that would alert the tenant to the fact that there has been a secret field this whole time that is about to be revealed to them.
When we became aware of this change and the potential loss of crucial evidence it represented we immediately reported it to investigators from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the Ministry of Government and Consumer Affairs. We also provided the information to several elected officials who are working on the LCB file as well as journalists we have been working with.
In our letter to the Ministry of Government and Consumer Affairs we asked them to invoke their investigatory powers under the Consumer Reporting Act and obtain a warrant to search for and seize the Landlord Credit Bureau database and all backups. We are not made privy to details of the investigation so we do not know if anything like this was done, all we can confirm is that both agencies received our letter. At this point we can only assume they took whatever appropriate action is within their power.
The end of the LCBs secret field is a big win for tenants in Canada but now we need to know what was documented about us in that field. If the LCB want to be truly transparent they could release the unedited contents of the secret field to each tenant so they can review and verify. Until there is real transparency where we get to hear what landlords will say about us when they think we can’t hear them this is little more than a coverup operation to protect landlords who LCB is clearly also concerned have abused the hidden field.