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Big Brother Landlords are Spying on Tenants!

Science fiction writers would have us believe that it won’t be long before we are all subjects of intrusive surveillance systems designed to infiltrate every corner of our lives. Indeed, we are halfway there already, with CCTV on every street corner. But in a disturbing development, some landlords are using smart surveillance technology to harass and monitor their tenants.

A group of tenants in New York took their landlord to court after he installed a smart lock on their apartment building that tracked their comings and goings. The case reached a settlement whereby the landlord was forced to install a physical lock and give tenants a key.

It is the first case of its kind where tenants have fought back – and won – against the installation of smart home devices.

Rent Controlled Buildings

The fear in this case and others is that landlords are using smart home technology to generate data about their tenants, which they can then use to evict them.

In New York, many apartment buildings are rent controlled, so landlords can’t increase the rent by more than 2% a year. However, if a tenant is evicted or leaves, they are then free to hike the rent by up to 20% before a new tenant moves on.

Not surprisingly, disreputable landlords will go to any lengths to force long-term tenants out so they can increase rents. If an apartment rent is increased to more than $2,700 per month, the landlord can petition to have the building deregulated so it is no longer rent controlled.

Spying on Tenants

Many landlords use surveillance techniques such as security cameras to look for evidence that tenants are sub-letting or otherwise in breach of their tenancy agreements. Some also use surveillance equipment to harass tenants and force them to leave. Some landlords will go to any lengths to force a tenant out.

Tenants are fearful that surveillance technology such as facial recognition software will make it even easier for landlords to evict them.

One group of tenants has filed a legal opposition to an application from their landlord to install a facial recognition door entry system. They argue that such systems are less effective for non-white people, and also that the landlord will then have access to biometric data.

UK Landlords and CCTV Security

UK landlords are governed by EU legislation when it comes to installing surveillance equipment. It is OK to install CCTV to protect properties, but it’s not OK to allow such devices “to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or members of his household”. If you do want to install security equipment, it must be made clear what measures you are taking in the tenancy agreement.

Would you consider adding smart home technology to your properties? Or do you think this type of system is intrusive? Let us know in the comments!

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