back to article We don't want to be Latch key-less kids: NYC tenants sue landlords for bunging IoT 'smart' lock on their front door

A group of Manhattan residents are suing their landlord after a smart lock was installed on their apartment block front door. They claim they are being forced to use a phone app to get into their homes as a result of the gizmo's installation. While upgrading the building at 517-525 West 45th St with a new elevator, the …

  1. jake Silver badge

    No worries!

    Just wait for the local louts to crack the so-called "security", and then sue the landlord for maintaining an attractive nuisance leading to $LOSS :-)

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: No worries!

      Except it's with your TV said louts will leave, and it's your insurance which will tell you that since you were protected with Fisher Price locks, you'll only get Monopoly money...

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: No worries!

        If the louts want my TV, good luck to them ... it's a 1988 32" Trinitron.

        My insurance company would pay me and go after the landlord in this scenario (I was curious and called my neighbor agent to verify what I suspected).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No worries!

          32 inch CRT Sony. Bring the van with the heavy duty suspension I would recommend. Used to service these fine TV's in a previous life. (early '90's)

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: No worries!

            Better have insurance. Those thieves will be claiming medical expenses treating the hernia

        2. steviebuk Silver badge

          Re: No worries!

          Retro game collector would love those CRTs. Never throw them out. Sell them on.

          1. Waseem Alkurdi

            Re: No worries!

            I have a whole lot (maybe five) of these. Stuff that came with MSX computers (picture: this or this. Worth a single dollar per unit, unfortunately.

            I also have a Psion Series 5mx (probably the only one to enter my country) ... and nobody would buy that either.

            1. BebopWeBop

              Re: No worries!

              Well if you are in the US, then nope - there were a largish group of users in the Bay areas in the 90s

            2. jake Silver badge

              Re: No worries!

              No, not one of those. One of these. 200+ lbs worth. The tuner died years ago, but it still works quite nicely as a monitor, driven by MythTV.

  2. Chris Gray 1

    Hope they win!

    I hope the residents win the lawsuit(s).

    Not sure what I would do if the condo board here put in an internet accessible smart lock system. Try to sell and move out, I guess.

    Why can't they just put in a system that uses key fobs? The owner gets very similar info about comings and goings, but without the insecurity of the "smart" locks and the requirement for a smartphone. It might cost more - I dunno.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Hope they win!

      Or just use a common or garden lock set, and put a simple security camera system on the access points. Cheap, simple, functional, and somewhat of a deterrent to ne'er-do-wells to boot.

      1. Jamesit

        Re: Hope they win!

        "put a simple security camera system on the access points."

        In the apartment building I live in the camera was stolen!! The camera was installed where it was easy to access from behind.

    2. Olivier2553

      Re: Hope they win!

      Or leave the door without any lock. It will provide the same level of security as the IoT lock, but will be infinitely cheaper and more reliable.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Hope they win!

      "The owner gets very similar info about comings and goings"

      That's one of the tenants objections.

    4. Steevee

      Re: Hope they win!

      I would have thought that key-fobs were almost ubiquitous by now, the apartment complex i used to live in (and was on the governing board of too) had them starting in the late 90's for all the obvious advantages; they can be added or removed from the system at will, a tenant can buy extra ones as they need, and the cost of replacing them if an ex-tenant fails to hand them back is no more than replacing a single key. And of course hotels have been using the advantages of key-cards for as long as they have been around, for much the same reasons.

  3. KLane

    What if....

    the batteries die in the lock, it loses the codes, or someone 'accidentallyonpurpose' breaks the lock?

    1. SolidSquid

      Re: What if....

      If this is the case I remember reading about a while back (when they were threatening a lawsuit instead of bringing one), there's already a couple of vulnerabilities been found, including one that lets people eavesdrop in on all of the locks and know when people have left the building

  4. Wilhelm Lindt


    "As for the landlords, the advantages to a smartphone app system are significant. They no longer have to swap out locks when tenants leave, or worry about getting their keys back. They can block tenants who fail to pay their rent. Building owners can get a log of entry into and out of their building and so, potentially, improve security and don't have to worry about lost keys."

    Surprising to find El Reg trying to make the landlord's case for smart locks, when all those advantages are possible with an old-fashioned proximity card lock.

    Tenants should be able to beat this landlord strictly on the basis of the app's T&C's, which that landlord has no right to impose as a condition of tenancy.

  5. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Has it been stolen yet?

    Now that every hacker/prankster knows where the IoT lock is. It's also not a good idea to have a situation where an easy solution to accidentally leaving your phone at home is to buy a drill on the way back.

    1. Spacedinvader

      Re: Has it been stolen yet?

      "It's also not a good idea to have a situation where an easy solution to accidentally leaving your keys at home is to buy a drill on the way back."

      Same problem, no??

      Agree IoT is stupid, especially locks.

  6. Jtom

    Perhaps an obvious answer that I can’t see: “which requires tenants to use an app on a smartphone to get into the lobby, where tenant mailboxes are also located.”

    How does the postal carrier gain entrance to put mail in the tenants’ mailboxes?

    1. JohnFen

      I don't know about that building, but typically mail carriers have either a keyswitch somewhere or (for non-electric locks) a service key. Both of those are themselves security problems as the same key is used across entire regions, but that's a different issue.

    2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      "How does the postal carrier gain entrance to put mail in the tenants’ mailboxes?"

      The correct and safe answer would be that the postal carrier doesn't gain entrance, the postal carrier just pushes the mail into mailslots at street level.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You've never been to New York City have you?

  7. doug_bostrom

    Stalked by a mugger, made it to the front door by skin of teeth, couldn't swipe the stupid fone awake, fone stolen along with sense of security.

    "I have an atrophied imagination." Is that a box that has to be ticked by landlords before they're unleashed on tenants?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice lock you have there

    Pity if something bad happened to it....

  9. Lee D Silver badge

    You go out.

    Forget your phone or the battery died.

    Now you're stuffed.

    What a great idea.

    IoT has its place, systems like this have their place, but so do "backup" traditional methods for when these thing's obvious failure patterns occur.

    I manage the access control in work. You can't get locked in anywhere, at all, ever, in any way. If you're locked out, there are a myriad options available to someone with a genuine right of access without having to go to the boss/landlord all the time. If power fails, you're secure but can still get in. If backup batteries fail, you're secure but you can still get in (physical override of certain locks). We have fire alarm opening, and lockdown. If we wanted to go full-nutter, we use the same system as a local RAF base (I know, because our chosen engineer also works that site).

    But the point is that you design the system, you don't just slap a computer-controlled lock on without thinking.

    I'm a techy guy, but I think I'd agree with the residents here. There's no need for it - it solves no problem that they had, while presenting new and interesting problems to basic functions they've had for decades, at great expense.

    I've often thought about changing the locks in places I live - I do after all know quite a bit about access control after managing it. The closest I ever got was to put an RFID reader and a maglock on a side-alley gate so my ex could cycle up to the gate when it was raining, tag her keys, and put the bike into the alleyway. It provided no access to the house or garden at all, couldn't have affected our insurance, worked well for years, and was overrideable by the simple precept of walking through the house instead and pressing the exit button by the back-door. Was very "handy". But I certainly wouldn't have started tying it into smartphones and Internet-based remote control.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's America

    Surely this is an infringement of my civil rights.

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: It's America

      No, it's New Yawk. Somethings are slightly different there... isn't that where the wonderful 'uncle Donny' got his start in screwing people?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Anything that raises awareness of diminishing privacy and ubiquitous surveillance is fine by me at this point. I'm also pleased to see some people noticed how they don't have precise control over the capabilities granted to programs they must run on their pocket computers in order to do basic things like enter their homes.

    There is hope for awakening. Until then, if you have nothing to hide, then you are apparently comatose.

  12. Flak

    Unintended consequences of 'progress'

    The human element (i.e. the most important one) was clearly not considered here.

  13. JimmyPage Silver badge

    I thought we'd passed "peak app" ????

    90% of "apps" are a thinly disguised (and badly written) needless waste of memory. That's before we get into the motives for requiring people to install them.

    Besides my smartphone has run out of memory and apparently I "need" all these apps.

    I've just cancelled my TiVo subscription with VM (mainly because it was unused ...) as the final straw was they removed the ability to control it via the web and insisted on you downloading an "app for that". The poor sales droid at cancellations couldn't understand why anyone would not want an app for that ....

  14. Stratman

    Are the required applications available for all phone operating systems, or are those who prefer Blackberry or Windows phones permanently excluded from their home?

    1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      ... don't forget those of us who choose not to have smart phones and/or are not surgically tied to the damn things..

      I never take my phone when I'm popping next door, or to the local shops etc.

  15. FrozenShamrock

    NYC Landlords, bah!

    As soon as you mentioned the rent control aspect it all became crystal clear. Landlords in NYC have been running scams to force out rent controlled tenants since rent control was first introduced. This one is just a little nicer than some of the older tricks such as constantly "repairing" the building to make life miserable for anyone living in it, mysterious problems with the heating or water system, etc. I still use my five-year old Windows phone so apparently I would be permanently blocked from my own apartment. (Laugh all you want, the phone still works fine and I have not spent hundreds of dollars buying new shiny toys that don't really do anything I need that this phone can't.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NYC Landlords, bah!

      There are, of course, a couple of different sides to this.

      Yes - the use of an app is intrusive and wrong

      But, abuse of rent control is also rife. Example, I moved out of NYC 3 years ago to a fishing village up the coast. One of my neighbors did the same, but she kept her rent control apartment in the East Village to rent out on AirB&B and to use on the occasions she visits. She is being subsidized by the landlords and other renters in NYC for this abuse and it is quite common for people who have rent controlled apartments to own second homes elsewhere. If the apartment is not their principal residence they should lose that rent protection and pay market rent or free up the unit for someone deserving. Truthfully, though, the whole system is broken.

      There needs to be some way to address both of these wrongs

      1. FrozenShamrock

        Re: NYC Landlords, bah!

        Agreed. Abuse of the system by either side is wrong and should be dealt with accordingly. The Air BnB thing is a relatively new phenomenon and I doubt if the nonagenarians mentioned in the story are running illegal hotels in their apartments.

      2. Mike Moyle

        Re: NYC Landlords, bah!

        "...she kept her rent control apartment in the East Village to rent out on AirB&B..."

        Someone could always rat her out to the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement or the City Housing Authority...

  16. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    I'd like to say I was surprised

    Really I would, but I'm not. The obvious failure possibilities are almost endless.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm reading P.G. Wodehouse's "Psmith, journalist"

    which shows that 100 years ago, NYC landlords were already known to play such games. Have they somehow evolved into a subspecies with specific characteristics different from humans?

  18. hellwig

    Still gonna charge for door unlocks.

    I bet they'll still get hit with a $20 door unlocking fee IF they can find a phone to call it in (in theory, they don't have their own smartphone on hand).

    My first day in a locked-front-door apartment was fun, went out to get my pizza and bam, locked out. Luckily I had a ground floor apartment and left a window open.

  19. DuncanLarge Silver badge


    I cant open the front door because:

    - Dang, my data just ran out.

    - The Apple/Android boot logo wont go away.

    - My phone case did nothing to protect the screen when I sneezed and dropped it. I cant tap any digits above 5 on the keypad.

    - Battery died when it said 40% remaining.

    - Battery died. Nobody else at school has an android, anyone with USB cables only had USB C cables and the wireless charging pad at Mc Donalds was switched off.

    - My phone exploded at school due to that cheap chinese charger I got from the thrift store.

    - My phone was confiscated by my teacher when I kept checking insta. DIdnt get it back after school as her water broke and went into labor. Dad is away on business and mum works till very late.

    - When I start the app, it crashes.

    - My mate tried to upgrade my Android to a custom rom to speed it up. Now its in a thing called a boot loop.

    - The app needs an update, is 20MB in size and I have only 10MB of data left. Oh and my phone doesnt connect to wifi after I dropped it in the loo.

    Funny how a bit of jagged metal that twists in a receptacle, or an NFC fob / card dont seem to have these complications.

  20. Donn Bly

    It is all about options

    I have no problem with the landlord giving tenants options, such as a the OPTION to use the smart-phone app to enter the building common areas. I don't even have a problem with a landlord doing away with metal keys and issuing fobs -- I did the same here after having to rekey the perimeter doors in my office building 4 times in 3 months. Fobs make a better key replacement than key cards because you can put them on the ring just like you can a key, though for my own access I put an RFID sticker on the inside of my phone case and use it instead (more reliable than a bluetooth app).

    The apps use bluetooth so data and wifi aren't at issue, but you CANNOT mandate that tenants use the smart-phone app for a variety of other reasons. The tenants have a valid case -- but they weaken it when they make claims that they cannot sustain such as that the landlord is tracking their movements. If they limited their claims to things that they could prove they would already have an open and shut case instead of clouding the issue.

  21. MachDiamond Silver badge


    I find it odd that the building owner isn't in trouble after blocking up the mechanical lock. Fire departments and other emergency services have access to multi-tenant buildings via a key box (known in the US frequently as a "Knox Box" (brand name)). They aren't going to stand there faffing about with a phone trying to locate the right app/password to open the door. If there happens to be a power outage or internet is off, that door would be coming down. The same goes if the police are serving a warrant. They aren't going to call the building manager to ask to be let in.

    Having your comings and goings tracked is a bit creepy. Do you really want your manager being able to look up when you are in or not? Do you want that information in a database?

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