What would you do? Protecting privacy when linking tenants to support
Non-profit housing providers are often the first people to spot a vulnerable tenant who may need help. To prevent a problem from turning into a crisis, they need to call on community support agencies. But how can you ensure you’re connecting tenants to the right support while maintaining and respecting their privacy?
Consider this scenario:
You find Mrs. Lee, aged 88 years, wandering the hallway in her nightgown. She seems confused, but is content to accompany you back to her apartment.
A week later, the next door neighbour says Mrs. Lee had opened her door, mistaking her apartment for her own. When she moved in, Mrs. Lee named her daughter as an emergency contact. You have not been in touch with the daughter previously.
Would you call Mrs. Lee’s daughter?
This is not an emergency – no harm has come to Mrs. Lee, her neighbours or the building, and there is no imminent danger.
On the other hand, it is an opportunity to start an important conversation, and to invite Mrs. Lee’s daughter into that discussion. As you think about how to proceed, weigh the risks of calling the daughter (Mrs. Lee might feel embarrassed or betrayed), with the risks of not calling (Mrs. Lee might place herself in real danger if she wandered out of the building).
At this stage, you could visit Mrs. Lee to ask how she is doing. You might say:
“When this has happened with other tenants, it can be helpful to make sure everything is okay. Would it be helpful for us to call your daughter? Or is there someone else, perhaps your doctor, that you would like to see?”
If Mrs. Lee agrees, discuss what you might say to the contact. If Mrs. Lee says something like, “Oh, I’m fine. Please don’t call my daughter,” you might say:
“We can leave it for now, but we are a bit concerned. Let’s wait and see, but if you change your mind, or if we think you are in any danger, we do plan to call your daughter – unless there is another person you would like us to call instead.”
After you leave, document what you said and what Mrs. Lee agreed to in terms of next steps. If Mrs. Lee puts herself at risk of danger through her wandering, you might invite her daughter to visit Mrs. Lee with you to discuss the situation and plan what to do next.
A housing provider’s guide to privacy
Some non-profit housing providers see privacy laws as an obstacle to connecting their tenants to support services. But they don’t need to be. Upholding the rights and dignity of vulnerable tenants and can help prevent problems from escalating.
Looking for more guidance on how to approach these tricky situations in a balanced way? ONPHA’s Privacy Guide is a free resource available exclusively to ONPHA Housing Members. The guide walks you through concrete examples like the one above, and provides the information you need to know about privacy laws, best practices and the housing provider’s role.
Access this resource: ONPHA Housing Members can access the Privacy Guide and appendices here on our website. Please note that you must be logged into our website as a Housing Member to download the guide.