NYC tenants successfully argue for right to a physical key over a smart lock

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Residents of a New York City apartment block have successfully forced their landlord to provide them with physical keys after a smart lock was installed on the building’s lobby door. CNET reports that a physical key has been designated as a “required service” that the landlord is obligated to provide as a result of the settlement.

Following the installation of the Latch-branded smart lock last September, five tenants sued their landlord, arguing that the use of the smart lock and its accompanying app raised serious privacy concerns. Their attorney argued that it could be used to “surveil, track, and intimidate tenants.” The tenants said that the smart lock’s app could track their location and notify their landlord when they enter the smart lock-equipped door, the New York Post reports.

Alongside privacy concerns, the tenants also argued that at least one resident in the building, 93-year-old Tony Mysak, was unable to use the smart lock. The smart lock controlled access to the building’s elevator, and Mysak struggled to use the stairs. As a result, they argued he had become a virtual shut-in since the system was installed.

The landlord’s attorney disagreed with the tenants’ claims and argued that the lock could be operated using a numeric code without needing to install the app. Latch, which manufactures the smart lock, said that its app doesn’t collect location data for marketing purposes and that it would be revising its privacy policy.

The case resulted in a private settlement between the landlord and the tenants, and it highlights real growing pains within the smart home industry due to the lack of clear laws about how the technology should be used.

It’s not just tenants who are struggling with the rise of smart home technology, either. Last June, The New York Times reported that smart home devices have become increasingly common tools for domestic abusers, as they are able to remotely control the technology to harass and bully others.

The New York City smart lock case doesn’t establish any firm legal precedent for how landlords are allowed to use these devices. However, with Latch smart locks installed in 1,000 residential buildings in New York alone, this is unlikely to be the last time the courts will have to examine smart home technology and its complex implications.

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