Some renters may enjoy the convenience of "smart home" technologies, but tech companies have nefarious purposes: spying on tenants in order to evict them or raise their rent.
“You CAN raise the rents in New York!” states the title of a promotional email sent to owners. It was an ad from Teman, a technology company that makes surveillance systems for apartment buildings.
Teman proposes a solution to New York City landlords who have tenants living in older apartments protected by many rent control and stabilization laws.
The company's email suggests a solution:
“3 simple steps to reset a unit.” First, use one of Teman's automated products to catch a tenant breaking a law or violating the lease, such as with unauthorized actions or loud parties. Then “vacate” the house and merge the apartment with an adjacent one above or below, creating a “new” unit that is not protected by the older legislation.
“Create a two-bedroom apartment for $4200/month from the $950/month and $1400/month (one-bedroom) studios,” states the email that he published the Motherboard. Teman's surveillance systems can even "help you determine which units are most likely to be removed (or kicked out!)."
Erin McElroy, an American studies professor at the University of Texas at Austin who tracks eviction trends, says digital surveillance of buildings is on the rise, particularly in New York. Any camera system can document potential eviction-worthy behavior, but McElroy identified two companies, Teman and Reliant Safety, that use tenants' biometrics with the express goal of facilitating evictions.
These companies are part of a growing industry known as “proptech,” which features all the technology used to acquire and manage real estate. A report by Future Market Insights predicts that proptech will quadruple its current value, becoming an $86,5 billion industry by 2023.
Reliant Safety, which claims to monitor more than 20.000 apartment units nationwide, is part of the Omni Organization, which was founded in 2004 and "acquires, rehabilitates, builds and manages quality affordable housing throughout the United States," according to the his website.
Reliant's website has videos depicting various violations detected by surveillance cameras. The site has a “Lease Violations” page that says its system has detected: “pets peeing in hallway,” “punching in hallway,” “improper disposal of mattress,” “tenant slipping in hallway,” as well as several alleged assaults , videos of fistfights in hallways, drug sales and break-ins through broken windows.
Reliant presents all of the above as “case studies” and lists the outcomes that led to arrest and eviction.
Part of its package of services is the "detection of illegal subletting" using biometric data submitted by tenants.