by Connie N. Heyer, TSSA General Counsel
Verifying Status OK, but Copying Military IDs is Illegal
Self storage operators have the right to verify the identities of their tenants. For example, if a tenant tells you he is in the military, you may ask to see a copy of his military ID, and you may make note of all information on the ID card. However, you cannot photocopy the card. Under the law, reproducing a military ID (by photographing, photocopying, scanning or other similar methods) is illegal. (18 USC §701).
Under Texas law effective January 1, 2012, a storage facility may require written proof of a tenant’s military service in the form of documentation from the United States Department of Defense, or other documentation reasonably acceptable to the lessor. So, if you need to verify the military status of a tenant, you may ask the tenant for a written statement from the DOD, his commanding officer, or whatever other source you reasonably allow. Department of Defense verification of military status can be obtained in a matter of seconds off the internet from the DOD official site, but the tenant must supply, at least for input into the website, his social security number, name and birth date. The DOD site for these purposes is https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/appj/scra/scraHome.do
Why Should Operators Copy a Tenant’s ID Card in the First Place?
Self storage operators have valid reasons for copying tenants’ IDs such as driver’s licenses: it quickly and accurately conveys necessary information regarding the tenant for the operator’s files, and it ensures a way to verify the tenant’s identity in the case a question is raised later on. Also, it tends to weed out the bad seeds, someone intending to store something illegal for example, will likely not want you to have a copy of their driver’s license. Self storage operators have a right to verify the identity of their tenants, and if a tenant does not have acceptable proof of identity, or refuses to provide it, the operator may deny tenancy, regardless of whether the would-be tenant is in the military.
What Can Operators Do?
Under the law, facilities can still copy other government issued IDs such as passports and driver’s licenses. However, again, the copying of military IDs is prohibited (primarily to prevent the production of fraudulent military identification). While operators can’t copy military IDs, they can still request to see a military ID to verify the tenant’s military status, and the can make a note of all information on the ID. This is important, for example, in determining eligibility for any military discount, and in determining whether the protections of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) apply, and whether you will request that the tenant sign an SCRA waiver (if that is your policy.)
What Should Operators Do if a Tenant is Only Carrying a Military ID Card and No Other Form of ID?
If a tenant is not carrying another valid form of identification, the operator can take down the information from the military ID card and also take a photograph of the tenant. Or, if desired, you could require the tenant to return with an acceptable alternate form of ID.
How Should Operators Handle Tenants’ Identification Information?
Whether an operator copies a tenant’s passport or driver’s license, or writes down a tenant’s military ID information, the operator must take care to protect a tenant’s personal information while it is in the operator’s possession. More information on duties regarding safeguarding and disposing of facility records containing sensitive information can be found in TSSA legal counsel’s article on “Privacy Laws”, behind the “Legal Articles” tab in the TSSA Goldbook©.