Applicants with No Social Security Number
If a prospective tenant does not have a social security card or cannot prove her immigration status, you will not be violating the fair housing laws if you refuse to rent to all applicants who cannot provide that information. Some landlords routinely turn them away.
But once you make the decision not to accept applicants in this situation, don't reverse it later even if you meet a particular individual you think would make a good tenant. You want to be consistent at all times.
Applicants without social security cards are usually recent immigrants or foreign students in the United States. They can be very good tenants. If you'd like to consider them, there are other ways you can get the information you need.
Your first option is to use a federally issued identification card, such as a passport, that has their photo on it instead of the social security card. This can be a passport or naturalization paper, which will provide proof of identity and eligibility to work under federal immigration laws.
By law, landlords in California and New York City cannot ask prospective tenants to prove their immigration status. But landlords in other states and localities can verify citizenship or immigration status to facilitate their screening process and without worrying about violating anti-discrimination laws.
Through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) now issues Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification), which gives recent immigrants the right to work. You can verify the status of students and temporary visa holders who do not want to work with a USCIS receipt or another document that describes their status.
Don't be selective when asking a prospective tenant to provide information on immigration status. If you are, you are violating the national origin proviso of the fair housing codes.
You may also want to check to see if the applicant has a criminal history. The only identification you need for a criminal check is the person's name and birth date. You should be aware, however, that there's always a chance that two people with the same name share the same birthday.
To avoid fair housing complaints, make it your standard policy to do criminal histories on all candidates who sign the rental application but don't have a social security card. Never base your decision to check into criminal backgrounds on one individual's appearance. Either do it for everyone or don't do it at all.
As a final safety measure, get as much information as possible. Take down the applicant's full name (double check any unfamiliar spelling or capitalization), birthplace, country of citizenship, and the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of two contacts in their home country.
Write down their alien registration number, the type of visa they have, and the visa's expiration date. (If their visa has expired, they may be in the process of getting another one.) Ask how long they've been in the country, what their previous addresses were, and verify what their immigration status is. Write down the number of any driver's license they hold.