When IoT Devices Are Not Wanted: A Tenant’s Dilemma

The number of IoT devices is on the rise, but not everyone’s a fan. While most people have the option to introduce these devices into their home and life, not everyone has a choice. Such is the case of tenants whose landlords install them without consent or prior notice.

One tenant from Denver, Colorado, is taking to a thread on Reddit to ask for potential legal advice on an unexpected predicament: while out of town, the landlord came into the apartment and installed smart home devices without consent. When the tenant returned, the landlord said an addendum to the lease must be signed; it was the tenant saw the kind of breach these devices would cause.

The tenant writes that the landlord replaced the door lock, plugs and switches, thermostat and water sensor with smart devices. The tenant wasn’t given the choice of not having them installed, but instead told to sign on the dotted line, saying they requested it.

The tenant’s dilemma is this: they love their apartment and wouldn’t want to leave. On the other hand, the addendum makes it clear the newly-installed IoT devices will be collecting data and sharing it with third parties, including potentially sensitive information like who comes through the door and when.

“Information Sharing: Anonymized and aggregated information collected by the Service may be shared with third parties for energy benchmarking, quality of service determinations, and for research and product development,” one section of the addendum to the lease reads. “Recipients of this information may include, but are not limited to, equipment manufacturers, consultants, educational institutions, utilities, study sponsors and government agencies.”

Along with privacy loss, intrusion is another risk associated with smart door locks. At the beginning of the year, security professional Leslie Carhart shared her disquiet when her property owner decided to “forcibly” switch to networked smart locks; reports published over the years illustrate how easy it is to bypass many of them. A recent one is here.

Smart locks are not the only IoT devices at issue; connected meters sending out power usage in real time can reveal if the owner is home or not. Of course, not all IoT technology is the same but it’s hard to imagine that property owners take an informed decision that does not impact the privacy and safety of the tenant.

In the examples above, the tenant can’t refuse to sign the addendum without risking eviction once the lease is up, and neither can they sign it and accept such a blatant invasion of privacy, especially when they did not request installation. Clearly, the landlord can set them up if they want to, since the apartment complex is their property. With an active lease on it, though, it’s probably not legal for them to do so without the tenant’s consent.

Smart home devices are meant to reduce losses for both the consumer and the provider, and offer a more accurate overview of resource consumption. In these cases they work against the tenant, who is caught in a situation they can’t win, no matter their course of action.

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