My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

What is the legality of Census Bureau employees contacting real estate agents?

Here’s an article that discusses this matter.

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6 Responses to “What is the legality of Census Bureau employees contacting real estate agents?”

  1. PM Says:

    It made sense to do so for the address in ADD_CAN (especially to gain access/info for multiple units- additions round back, etc.) and we were encouraged (here) to avail ourselves of this means- but that’s the address. As far as the propriety of doing it for occupants, I’ll bet you’ll get almost as many answers as there are LCOs. Some say use the net, etc., as I hear- some will can you for it.

    Perhaps had this all been specified at the primordial stage of all these directions and memos- whether some personally say “it’s just common sense to do X…” or not, we’d have a) better informed/efficient enumerators and b) fewer people getting busted for pulling procedure out of a hat, which seems the case. This should have been formulated by someone working from years’ experience as we already have under HQ’s belt, with no vagaries. Why wasn’t it?

    [Oh- they can probably fit this onto one or two pages, instead of across several nooks in the books.... hint hint.]

  2. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    Well, that article seemed to concern itself with this issue from the realtor’s side, not the enumerator’s. The main question seems to be, can the Census Bureau compel a realtor, property manager, etc., to give them requested information? It’s a good question, one certainly not adequately covered by our Census training, and probably a legal gray area in many ways.

    While it’s tempting to view this as a cop-out on the part of realtors who just don’t want to answer our questions about a property, they (realtors) do have compelling reasons not to divulge certain information about a property. The person interviewed in the article seemed to be saying that it was certainly OK to give an enumerator information about the property (e.g., whether it was vacant on Census Day), but when it comes to information about owners or residents, they were wary and thought it best to contact the owner before divulging such information.

    Which seems reasonable, although it could certainly make for some frustrating back-and-forth and delays, to the point where an enumerator might not be able to get information on a property in time to complete an EQ.

    One thing I wish they had put in the article is something about confirming Census employees’ identities. It isn’t all that hard to do; all our NVs should have our employee ID numbers on them, and a simple call to the LCO (whose number should also be on the NV) can quickly confirm their identity. In fact, I’m really surprised that more people I talked to out in the field didn’t do this; I would certainly consider it if it was my door that was being knocked on.

  3. CLA Dave Says:

    I’ve used real estate agents, property managers, and landlords as knowledgeable proxies. What’s the problem with that? If we can inquire of total strangers who happen to live nearby, why on earth couldn’t we ask a real estate agent?

  4. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    We can, of course, despite what some people have been told by their bosses. What this article is focusing on is the privacy concerns of realtors regarding their clients, which are as valid as the confidentiality we’re sworn to uphold as Census workers.

  5. Samantha Jackson Says:

    Our LCO provided us with a letter to give to property managers, landlords, security companies, real estate agents, etc., with language that compels them to assist under penalty of fine.

  6. Ryan Shaughnessy Says:

    Census workers routinely seek “proxies” to verify the status of the unit as vacant or occupied on April 1, 2010. “Proxies” are by definition people with personal knowledge of the status of the residence.

    The real question isn’t whether a census can or should contact a real estate agent. Such conduct is “legal” by any definition. The real question is whether or not the real estate agent can and should provide requested information.

    There are legitimate privacy concerns raised as to such items as name, age and date of birth of occupants. Similarly, there are security and potential liability concerns raised by indicating that a property is vacant. NAR has weighed in on the subject and has indicated that a typical listing agent isn’t under any legal obligation to respond. Oddly enough, ownership and occupancy information are often matters of public record.

    Notwithstanding NAR’s position, most real estate agents will either verify occupancy status and # of occupants and decline to disclose names, ages or dates of birth or status as owner occupied or rented or, in the alternative, will forward the notice of visit to their customers. In addition, a listing agent for property A could provide information regarding property B without running afoul of any privacy or security concerns.

    The rule, however, is different depending on the role of the real estate agent. If the agent owns or manages the property, the agent may be compelled to provide access to units and/or to provide limited demographic information.