Privacy is suddenly something everyone is talking about, and as a small or medium-sized property management company, you might not think you have to worry too much about it. After all, you’re not Facebook. You’re not Google. Why would privacy for property management companies be important for you?

But, you do collect information from people, and those people deserve to know what you’re doing with that information.

Our guests today are privacy policy experts from Termageddon. They’re here to give us some information on what you need to do in terms of addressing privacy concerns and data collection.

Introducing Atty. Donata Kalnenaite and Hans Skillrud

Atty. Donata Kalnenaite and Hans Skillrud can be trusted to talk about privacy policies on websites.

As the company’s president, Donata is an attorney who practices privacy law and contract law. She’s a Certified Information Privacy Professional through the International Association of Privacy Professionals, and she wrote Termageddon’s policies to keep them up to date with the current and coming laws. Her job is to follow the different laws in each state and analyze what they’re proposing and what they’re passing. She’s also an expert in federal and international privacy laws.

Hans is the Vice President and co-founder of Termageddon, and works in sales and marketing. With a background in software and website creation, he has a unique ability to translate some of the complex legal content that people need to know when they’re thinking about online privacy statements.

Privacy for Property Management Companies:

Why Should Property Managers Care About Privacy Laws?

Privacy can be a confusing topic. It’s easy to see why large companies like Google and Apple and Facebook have to be careful about privacy, but why does it matter to a small or mid-sized property management company?

Most privacy bills and laws don’t have a revenue cap, which means you’re bound to the same rules and laws as companies that earn hundreds of millions in revenue. It doesn’t matter how much information you collect on people or how many people are sharing their information.

If you have a contact form on your website, you’re gathering personal data. That means these laws will apply to you.

Think about your tenants. You know where they live. You know how much money they earn. You probably have their bank account information, and you know if they have a dog.

This is sensitive information. So, you need to take privacy seriously.

Additionally, property management is a service-based industry. People care about privacy. Your tenants care and your owners care, and that means you need to care.

Personally identifiable information includes names, email addresses, and phone numbers. Laws protect people from taking that information from others without the proper disclosures. With all of the inquiries you’re getting from people all over the country and even all over the world, you need to disclose what kind of data you’re collecting and what you’re going to do with it.

You want your website to be viewed by a lot of people. So, you need a strategy for staying up to date with website privacy laws.

Privacy Policies and Different State Laws

You might have been on a website where you notice there’s a different privacy policy stated for residents in different states. It’s hard to combine the privacy laws and requirements from different states into one blanket policy. Consumers from different states currently have different rights.

There’s a lot of debate about how to word everything. Your privacy policy has to make sense and it has to include all the required disclosures, and that can take some time to put together. It takes time and training.

A lot of people want to know when they need to begin including a privacy policy on their website.

According to Hans and Donata, you need to have one as soon as your website has a contact form. When you’re inviting people to share their information, you need to disclose what you’re doing with it.

Maybe you’re a property manager with contact forms on your website, but you never sell that information to third parties. You need to disclose that. You need to disclose whether or not you’re tracking people who land on your website. There are several disclosures that you may not realize you need to include on your property management website.

Are you offering a free rental analysis on your website, and asking for names and emails? You need a disclosure for that, too.

Privacy, Companies, and Consumers

A number of bills have been proposed to allow individual consumers to sue companies for not disclosing what they are doing or not doing with data.

These laws are not on the books yet, but they are under consideration in several states. People will likely be able to sue companies for violating their privacy rights. Currently, a consumer would need to go the state’s attorney general and file a complaint. The attorney general would then decide whether or not to pursue a case. The Federal Trade Commission can also get involved if the privacy violation crosses state lines.

Think about the security certificates you expect websites to have. Five years ago, no one cared about those SSL certificates. Now, if you’re on a website that isn’t secure, it feels pretty bizarre.

Privacy issues are moving in the same direction.

Privacy Myths: What You Need to Know

Some of the most common privacy myths that the Termageddon team members hear include the following:

  • My website is secure, so I’m fine.
  • My company is too small, it doesn’t matter.
  • My customers really don’t care whether I have a privacy policy or not.
  • No one will enforce these privacy laws.
  • No one reads privacy policies.
  • I’ll just copy and paste a privacy template from my competitor.

The myth that’s really alarming is the tendency to believe you can simply copy and paste any privacy policy that you see anywhere on the internet. You don’t know what criteria were used and what was left out.

There are plenty of online templates for privacy policies as well.

But, it’s not so easy. Property managers often caution landlords against downloading any lease template they find on the internet. They don’t know if it’s legally compliant in their own state, and they can’t be sure all the necessary information is included.

The same risk exists with online privacy policy templates.

They can also be deceptive if they’re trying to convince you they’re “free.”

Copying and pasting any template you find on other sites is problematic for more than one reason.

First, it’s a copyright infringement.

Next, it could have been written by anyone. When it’s a policy that’s on your website, you are responsible for it.

With the power of the internet, anyone can research anything with enough time. But, there are a lot of privacy laws that are different from state to state. Your website’s privacy policy has to accurately reflect them.

Get expert advice. You can certainly ask your eviction lawyer for some advice about privacy policies, but make sure you seek out an expert before you adopt a policy for your company and your website. Look for someone who studies privacy legislation and case law. Most divorce attorneys don’t do eviction law. And, most landlord/tenant lawyers aren’t experts in privacy law.

Are You In a State that Doesn’t Require Privacy Policies?

You still need one.

Here’s why: the privacy laws protect the consumers in each state, and not the businesses in the state. So, if you have a consumer from another state using your website and providing their contact information, you are accountable for protecting that person’s information. Even if your own state doesn’t require you to.

About a dozen states currently have strict privacy laws. You’re bound to have website visitors from at least one of them.

One of the other myths we mentioned is that if a website is secure, a privacy policy isn’t needed.

Security and privacy are two different things. Even if your site is built well and fiercely protected, you still need to explain what your company is doing with data.

Consumers care about their privacy.

Additional Benefits to Privacy Policies for Property Management Companies

Having a privacy policy raises your credibility.

It also helps your search ranking. Google likes to see privacy policies; they’re a ranking factor because Google looks for trustworthy websites, and privacy is a factor in trust.

As a property manager, you probably talk a lot about transparency. You’re transparent with pricing and you’re transparent with the services you offer. If this is a value that you offer your clients, a privacy policy needs to be part of the transparency you provide.

Vocabulary and Definitions

You probably see these terms all the time. But, what do they mean?

Privacy Policy

A privacy policy is a statement that talks about what data your website collects, what is done with it, and who it’s shared with. Those are the three main points that everyone wants to know. Those are the things you need in your privacy policy.

Terms of service and terms of condition

Your terms of service should talk about the rules of using a website and the limits to a website owner’s liability. It may answer questions about refunds and cancellations. The terms of service can offer protection for you if you include a Facebook link. You don’t want to be liable for Facebook’s data sharing policy. This generally helps limit your liability if something goes wrong. If you’re hacked or if someone loses their information or gets a virus, the terms of service will cover you.

Privacy and terms of service are needed for almost every website.

Disclaimer

Disclaimers limit the scope of rights and obligations for site owner and user. If you have an educational page where you talk about things like eviction, you might want to include a disclaimer that you’re not a lawyer and the information that’s being provided is not legal advice.

There isn’t a single place to find all the information you need on privacy, which is one of the reasons that the topic in general is so confusing. Donata recommends a few resources that she uses:

Upcoming Laws and Legislation

Privacy policies don’t have a shelf life, exactly, but the law is always changing, which means your privacy policy needs to continue evolving.

Two new laws are expected in the next six months, and after that, perhaps 10 proposed bills will be debated. Five of them are federal.

The problem with trying to write a policy that covers all the potential issues in every possible state is that you cannot possibly predict what will be required. For example, to exercise your rights as a consumer, you have to contact a company and say don’t sell my data. So, perhaps you want to follow this law no matter what state it happens to be in, so you let all your website visitors know that by sending an email or clicking a box, you will agree not to sell their data.

You might think you solved the problem. Until one state passes a law saying all companies must provide a toll-free telephone number for people to call if they don’t want their data shared.

Now, you have some re-writing to do.

We’re fortunate that we had Hans and Donata to talk to us about what we need to think about with privacy. The things they’d like you to remember are:

  • When a website collects a name and an email address and a phone number, you’re collecting personally identifiable information.
  • You have to care about privacy. Regardless of your company size, you’re never too small to afford your users the respect they want and deserve.
  • Have questions about privacy for property management? Talk to a specialized attorney about privacy, or use a program like Termageddon to protect your company and your users.

We can help you find the right solution. Contact us at Fourandhalf, and we’ll tell you how to meet your privacy obligations.