Knock, Knock! Who’s There? The U.S. Census. The U.S. Census? Just Let Me in and Do As I Say, and You Can Keep Your $500

Published on: June 1, 2010

Not the greatest punch line, but it provides owners, proprietors, managers, superintendants, and agents of any building (our clients) with some valuable insight on potential liability if they fail to accommodate a US census employee.

Pursuant to Article 1, Section 2 of the US Constitution, Congress is empowered to carry out the census “in such Manner as [Congress] shall by Law direct”. Throw in the “necessary and proper clause”, and the founding fathers have effectively provided Congress with the ability to demand answers to various questions beyond mere headcount. One would assume that the aforementioned Constitutional language would be sufficient to allow Congress to carry out the census. However, one would be wrong…

The United States Code – Title 13, Chapter 7, Subchapter 2, Section 223 provides that whoever refuses or willfully neglects to furnish the names of the occupants of any building to an employee of the Department of Commerce (of which Census workers belong to), shall be fined not more than $500. It further suggests that failure to provide “free ingress thereto and egress therefrom” may also result in the $500 fine.

You may be asking, “free ingress and egress to what”?!?! Fortunately, we have confirmed with the Boston office of the Census Bureau that access to the building, and not the apartment, is what the Census taker is entitled to. Title 13 of the United States Code also requires that the Census Bureau and its employees keep information that they collect confidential, and that they use this information only for tabulations that do not reveal any personal data about individuals or households.

However, rather than focus on liability, let us consider the purpose of the US Census. The Census is intended to provide an accurate count of residents, which information is then used to determine how more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding is spent on various services. School funding, infrastructure, hospitals, and other public works projects benefit from this tedious, but necessary government function. As such, when you hear a knock at your development’s door, and a US Census worker has provided you with reasonable proof of their identity (each US Census employee is required to carry official identification), let them in and give them what they ask for as provided herein. In other words, do not be concerned about opening your books to the Census workers or providing them with your residents’/occupants’ personal information. Title 13 obliges you to comply with the Census worker’s requests related to the collection of statistics for any census.

So, in order to help our Government “move forward”, let the US Census employee in, and rest assured that you will not be liable for any improper release of personal information claim nor a $500 fine so long as you:

  1. Confirm that the Census employee has valid and official identification (all census takers are required to carry official government badges that bear just their names. However, if you are not certain about their identity, call your regional census center to confirm their employment with the Census Bureau);
  2. Open your books and records to the Census employee, and release any and all personal information regarding your residents, tenants, occupants and owners; and
  3. If the Census employee requests, provide them access to the building in order for them to attempt to communicate directly with the residents/occupants. For clarity, you are not required to give access to the residents’/occupants’ apartment, just to the building.

If you have any further questions or concerns regarding the release of personal information or the US Census, please do not hesitate to contact any attorney at Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks, P.C.