Caution! Risk of privacy breach with open houses during COVID

Even with both government and the FVREB recommending you avoid open houses at this time for the betterment of public safety, if you’re still considering it, here’s yet another reason not to.

As CEO, Baldev Gill, outlined in the Board’s latest eMemo, in order to comply with current Provincial Health Orders, REALTORS® are required to take the name and contact information from anyone that attends an open house strictly for the purpose of COVID-19 contact tracing should it be required.

Anecdotally, we’ve heard that many Fraser Valley members are simply taking names and numbers or emails and either manually writing them on a piece of paper – often sitting by the front door of the open house! – or entering the info digitally on their iPad or other such device.

An agent remarked, “It’s never been easier to get peoples’ contact information. This is great!”

Wait just a minute.

We’re talking about private contact information. Realtors already know there are laws about that.

Why are you collecting the personal information? Where are you storing it? How are you safeguarding it? What are you planning to use it for? How long will you keep it? Who are you going to share it with?

And most importantly, do the people who gave you their personal information know the answers to all of the above?

Misuse of personal information is breaking the law

As outlined in the aforementioned eMemo, the Board recently received a complaint from a member of the public alleging that they received a follow-up phone call after an open house where they supplied their name and number solely for the purpose of contact tracing.

The call back was to offer real estate services, it had nothing to do with COVID-19.

If this complaint is true, it’s a breach of our Standards of Business Practice and potentially breaking the law, the Personal Information and Protection Act. It could warrant a Business Practices investigation and potentially an investigation by BC’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The Board reminds members that Realtors cannot use COVID-19 contact information for any other reason than COVID-19 tracing.

  • No marketing calls.
  • Do NOT contact them to see how they liked the house the following week.
  • Do NOT put them in your database and start dripping on them.

Have a look at the attached links. You need to know this, and you need to comply.

Here are the Privacy Commissioner’s rules around collecting contact tracing info:

Here’s Dr. Bonnie Henry’s Public Health Order (PHO) on why that collection has to be done:

Homeowners share responsibility to ensure safety protocols being met while public visits their home

This is something your sellers may not know and should know. Under section C-8 of Dr. Henry’s PHO on events and gatherings (link above), it says:

8. If the organizer is not the owner or operator, the owner or operator must satisfy themselves that the organizer is aware of the requirements in sections 1 to 6 or, if applicable, section 7, and has the capacity to fulfill them.

Applying this to an open house, you are the organizer, and your seller is the owner. The Order states that the owner of the location where the ‘event or gathering’ is taking place has an explicit responsibility to ensure that the event is being done properly and meeting all provincial safety requirements.

So, not only are you responsible for public safety during open houses and the collection and protection of personal information for contact tracing, but we believe your seller, also shares responsibility. We may need a legal opinion on this, but if the risk is there, a seller needs to know it’s a possibility and should seek their own legal counsel.

We strongly recommend you review with your clients, the risks versus benefits of holding open houses during a pandemic. And if your client still deems it ‘essential’ even after thoroughly investigating their own risks, we also strongly recommend you have everything – their responsibilities and liabilities – documented and signed-off on.

Is there a formal form for the collection of contact tracing info at open houses?

To our knowledge, no. Our suggestion for a form would be to make it simple and only related to COVID-19 contact tracing that explains exactly what it is for, how the information would be used and when it will be destroyed.

If you’ve created a good one, feel free to share it for the benefit of the profession.

Also, important to mention, if you are also wanting to collect personal information for lead generation that’s fine, just do it separately and transparently.

If you have any questions about how to collect, use, disclose or protect personal information, please call The Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner at (250) 387-5629 or email them at

Source: FVREB Professional Standards