2020 Census – What Apartment Managers Need to Know

2020 will be a U.S. Census year. Every household will be required to answer a census questionnaire. This includes renters, so landlords and property managers need to know the rules.

Questionnaires should be mailed to individual households by April 1, 2020. If tenants do not respond to the questionnaires, they may receive a visit from a census worker. That probably will not happen until late spring or summer of 2020.

Landlords and property managers in multifamily buildings have to allow access for census workers to buzz or knock on front doors of specific tenants who have not responded to the census mailing. The census worker may have to return a number of times to catch the person at home. They must be allowed repeated visits, but their requests for access have to be reasonable.

If the census worker is unable to contact the tenant after repeated attempts, the landlord or property manager may be asked to provide demographic information about that unit.

While there will be several parts to the 2020 census, only the 2020 Census and American Community Survey will be mandatory. You do not have to allow access for others.

Obviously, the census process will bring out identity thieves and other criminals who will pretend to be census workers in order to gain access to your tenants.

Here are some tips to help you confirm that a census worker is legitimate:

  1. Before you permit entry, request ID. Workers will be issued a government identification. The ID will have a photo, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date. You should cross check with government ID with a personal photo ID, such as a driver’s license;
  2. You may call the National Processing Center at 1-800-923-8282. This is the only number that may be called to verify the identity of a census worker, so do not accept any other number from the worker;
  3. Ask them to tell you the specific name of the survey – cons don’t always do their homework. It will be the 2020 Census or the American Community Survey;
  4. Request proof that they are carrying a confidentiality statement with them – they are required to read it to each person they interview;
  5. Make sure they have something with them to record data – most will have hand-held computers;
  6. They may carry a black bag with “U.S. Census Bureau” printed on it;
  7. Census workers will not request entry to a unit;
  8. Census workers will not request personal information or SSNs, but they may ask for general income data;
  9. Be suspicious of those who ask to “canvas” – knock on random doors, or need to meet with quite a few renters; and
  10. If anyone demands immediate access without time to call to verify or otherwise threatens you – e.g., threatens to have you arrested – they are not legitimate.

If a census worker cannot locate the tenant after multiple attempts, they are allowed to – and in fact are required to – contact the landlord or manager of the rental property to obtain the requested information about the tenant.

Typically, providing personal information about a tenant to a third party is not something that you want to do since it could lead to a privacy lawsuit. However, providing a census enumerator with the answers to the questions from the census questionnaire regarding your tenants is an exception. The Department of Commerce has clearly stated that landlords and property managers will not be in violation of any privacy laws if they provide the requested information about their tenants to the census taker. In fact, if a landlord refuses to provide the census worker with the requested information about the tenants, the manager or landlord may be fined up to $500. The applicable law is Title 13 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Chapter 7, Subchapter II, Sections 221 and 223.

The first question that the enumerator should ask is whether or not the apartment unit was occupied on April 1, 2020. If the unit was not occupied on April 1, 2020, there should be no further questions.

Assuming the unit was occupied on April 1, 2020, you should provide the census worker with answers to as many of the census questions as possible. Two of the questions will ask about an individual’s race, and the enumerators will be aware that you may not know this information.

If you answer questions from a census worker regarding any of your tenants, you should let the tenant know about the conversation as soon as possible.

I recommend filing this information away so that you will have access to it if approached by a census worker in 2020.