With no shortage of prospective renters in Greater Victoria, a local tech startup thinks it has a solution when it comes to helping landlords choose their tenants.
Its creators say CLAIRE, an artificial intelligence program, can mine data through more than 100,000 public websites to compile a report for a landlord about a prospective tenant's level of risk, but only if that person gives permission.
"CLAIRE is really designed to look at millions of data points at the same time to draw inferences about applicants," said Andrew McLeod, co-founder of Certn, the company that created CLAIRE.
The program scours the web for data such as criminal convictions and eviction notices and can even filter behavioural patterns through a questionnaire and on social media platforms.
"You can assess things like how clean the person's likely to be, their level of kindness," said McLeod. "The big thing to note is that we don't look at images."
While the program could help landlords select the right renter in a market with an almost zero per cent vacancy rate, there are concerns over whether it goes too far when it comes to privacy.
"If you're collecting more information than is necessary, which would almost certainly include information that is in a social media platform, it is very hard for me to see how information that is disclosed on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter would be related to a tenant suitability decision," said B.C. Privacy Commissioner Bradley Weldon. "Then you're likely in contravention of PIPA (Personal Information Protection Act)."
But McLeod called current privacy legislation "a bit outdated," and said the company has extended an invitation to the privacy commissioner's office to work together.
"Privacy is huge, and we've been very forthcoming with the privacy commissioner's office," he said. "I think generally they've been positive with what we've come forward with, especially when it comes to consent. We're millennials, we built this product for tenants as tenants and not the other way around."
He also said the program could benefit renters who don't have credit scores, because it provides a snapshot using other publicly available information that could encourage landlords to rent to them.
"By using our system, our landlords and property managers are able to approve 40 per cent more applicants than they were in the past, and we've been able to reduce defaults statistically up to 75 per cent," said McLeod. "This is a great thing for renters. Typically in the rental market now its first-come, first-serve, and it's not the best tenant being chosen."
The question the privacy commissioner's office says landlords need to ask is whether someone has been a good tenant – and they should keep that in mind as they hunt for information.