Today, a growing number of rental properties are fully equipped with smart technology, including thermostats, video doorbells and security cameras, and smart locks. In fact, many tenants have suggested they would pay more for properties equipped with these tools. Still, while such technology is popular, it’s also a source of contention. That’s because these devices can give landlords a direct connection to their tenants’ properties – even more so than a master key.
As more properties come pre-equipped with smart technology, landlords and their tenants need to set clear boundaries about how these devices will be used and who controls them. In particular, tenants have expressed anxiety that landlords could use these tools maliciously or as a means of harassment, and proposals to equip some larger properties with smart home tools have been met with protestations.
If you’re a landlord considering whether to introduce smart home technology to your property, it’s important to gather feedback from existing tenants and give them options about what tools will be in their home and how it will be used. Unlike renters who elected to live in a property with smart home technology, these tenants require a more participatory approach when introducing new tools.
Smart Tech As Amenity
One of the most common framings for new smart home technology is as an amenity. In this era of amenity creep, not every property owner has the space to add a pool or a dog run. Smart home tech, on the other hand, is largely inconspicuous, cost-effective, and provides a solid return on investment. This is the framework most landlords rely on when installing new smart home devices in their properties, as well as green rationalization as many smart home upgrades can also reduce energy waste.
Security Versus Surveillance
Another way that property owners justify new smart home technology is as a way of increasing security. Video doorbells can keep packages from being stolen, allow tenants to screen visitors, and smart locks are typically more secure than standard tumbler locks. But, while smart home devices can make your property safer, some of those safety-enhancing features are the same ones generating concerns among tenants.
Take smart locks as an example. When one Manhattan landlord installed smart locks on property doors, tenants actually filed a lawsuit, claiming that the devices were a form of harassment and surveillance. Some also objected because, while the vast majority of people have smartphones, using the locks requires a smartphone app. This can be a problem for older tenants who aren’t tech savvy, but it’s the threat of surveillance that really bothers users.
Similarly, in another New York City case, tenants are currently fighting the installation of facial recognition technology that would provide frictionless entry – but would also inherently be a form of surveillance. In this case, the property in question is rent controlled and in a gentrifying area and many tenants worry that, in addition to being actively surveilled, that this new technology will substantially change the makeup of the area as tenants in the rent-controlled properties age and move away.
Abuse Potential Abounds
While there’s nothing inherently harmful about landlords installing smart home technology, the potential for abuse is real, and even those who choose to use smart home technology may worry about their privacy. Even if only accidentally, devices like the Amazon Alexa may record private conversations and even send them to outside parties, while tenants worry that the ways in which smart locks collect GPS information could be used in malicious ways.
It’s already common practice for abusive landlords to change tenants’ locks to push them out of properties and many worry that smart locks, which rely on little more than a few button pushes to change, could make this kind of aggression easier. As for facial recognition-based locks, tenants, especially those in urban areas, worry who that data may be shared with since facial recognition information is widely used in policing.
Setting Clear Boundaries
As a landlord, you can elect to install whatever technology you wish in your properties; while New York is currently trying to pass a law, there are not yet any laws regulating smart home technology in rentals. However, if you do choose to install such technology, it’s important that you work alongside your tenants to set clear boundaries. For example, it’s easy to require tenants to use smart thermostat technology, particularly if their energy bill is bundled with their rent. However, for those who don’t wish to use such tools – and if the payments aren’t bundled, you’ll have little say in this matter – it’s fairly easy to override smart thermostats and put them into manual mode, eliminating the data collection element.
On the other hand, when it comes to smart locks, which seem to have been the most contentious new technology, there is far less of a middle road. You can’t practically use a smart lock and a manual one at the same time without just double-locking the property. However, you can work with tenants to find the best “key” solution. Many smart locks work with either an app, code, or key card, so allow tenants to pick from among these options. You should also be open to adapting the system, including reverting back to a manual lock, if a tenant’s disability makes using a smart lock a substantial burden, as has happened with some older, visually impaired tenants in New York.
Ultimately, like so much else about the housing market, debates about smart home technology are largely generational, and you’ll have different conversations with millennials about how to use these tools than you will with older tenants. Setting out clear terms in your contract about how smart home technology will be used is also vital to settling any possible disputes, and you may need to offer a separate amendment if you install such devices in occupied properties.
The Tools You Want, The Support You Need
Whether you’re a landlord stumbling through the smart home debates or just hoping to keep the peace with your tenants, you don’t have to go it alone. The Green Residential team provides comprehensive property management services, including tenants screening, rent collection, maintenance, and eviction – and we bring over thirty years of Houston area experience to the task. Contact us today to learn more about how we can serve your properties because third-party management is what truly makes a property smart.