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

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


A physical key has become a ‘required service’

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Latch produces smart locks that are designed for apartments and office buildings.
Latch produces smart locks that are designed for apartments and office buildings.
Image: Latch

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 claimed 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. Latch denies these claims.

The settlement won’t set a legal precedent

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 residents in the building were given key cards, and added that the company doesn’t capture, store, or use the GPS location data of its users. Latch also said that it has updated its Privacy Policy to make this clear.

“Latch was not a party to this litigation,” the company said in a statement to The Verge. “We are pleased the parties — a group of five tenants and the building owner — have reportedly reached a private settlement to resolve their disagreement about entry methods to their building’s common spaces. At Latch, we know people have personal preferences about how they access their homes.” It added that all its devices are compatible with physical keys.

Though the case has been resolved in private settlement between the landlord and the tenants, it highlights real growing pains within the smart home industry due to the lack of clear laws about how this type of 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.

Update May 10th, 2:15PM ET: Updated to include a statement from Latch and additional details about the company’s privacy policy.