Question: My wife and I just signed a one-year lease for a rental home. Before we signed, the owner of the home ran a credit check on me. Then, one week before we were scheduled to move in, the owner decided she needed to run a credit check on my wife too. She said that the lease has a clause that allows her to run a credit check whenever she wishes, and that if my wife refuses to provide her Social Security number for the purpose, she won't let us move in. Does the owner have a right to do this? We have already given notice at our current apartment.
Answer: Every tenant has a right to privacy guaranteed by the state Constitution. This right applies to a tenant's personal financial information. However, California Civil Code Section 1950.6 creates an exception to this privacy right to allow a landlord to conduct credit checks to screen rental applicants.
The purpose of this exception is to provide a fair opportunity to screen potential tenants. In your case, the landlord has already signed a lease, so the policy of encouraging adequate screening no longer applies. The landlord now has a binding contract with you, and with your wife, which means there is no longer a valid reason to violate your wife's right to privacy.