Bill would require landlords to provide tenants with a traditional key. 

New York, NY — The New York City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings, along with the Committee on Technology, will hear testimony today on proposed legislation that would require building owners to provide all tenants with a traditional key, and prevent landlords from mandating that tenants use facial recognition, biometric scanning, or other “smart” key technology to enter their apartment buildings or their individual unit.

The KEYS (Keep Entry to Your home Surveillance-free) Act, proposed by Council Member Brad Lander, would prevent tenants from being forced to give up their privacy rights in order to enter their own homes.

“No one should be required to have their movements tracked, just to enter their own home,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Landlords’ increasing use of smart keys, facial recognition, biometric scanning, and other technology poses a serious threat to the rights of tenants, one that falls disproportionately on lower-income communities of color who are already subject to greater surveillance in their daily lives. Requiring owners to give every tenant a traditional key, and prohibiting them from requiring the use of tracking technology, are important steps toward preventing landlords from surveilling and intimidating their tenants.”

As surveillance technologies have proliferated in the last few years, so too have concerns about privacy and accessibility. One elderly tenant in Hell’s Kitchen was locked out of his apartment because he was unable to use a smartphone to unlock his door using the Latch lock and app installed by his landlord. The tenant, along with neighbors, won a settlement in May 2019 requiring the landlord to provide traditional, mechanical keys to all tenants. The KEYS Act would expand that settlement to cover all tenants, requiring building owners to provide mechanical keys to residents for both the exterior door of their buildings and the doors to their individual apartments.

Increasingly, tenants are pushing back against the use of surveillance technology in their housing. Tenants have raised concerns about the location information collected by smart keys being used to harass or intimidate tenants. In addition to concerns about misuse of location data by landlords, tenants worry about smart key companies using such data for marketing purposes. 

In Brownsville, tenants are fighting the proposed installation of facial recognition technology in their buildings at the rent-stabilized Atlantic Plaza Towers complex. Tenants filed a formal legal complaint with the New York State’s Homes and Community Renewal seeking to block the use of facial recognition technology. 

“We are glad our City Council is paying attention to the use of facial recognition entry systems in residential spaces, but tenants need additional protections from the many risks involved in biometrics data collection,” said Samar Katnani, an attorney in Legal Services NYC’s Tenant Rights Coalition, which represents over one-hundred tenants fighting facial recognition software in Atlantic Plaza Towers. “The tenants we work with are calling for a ban on facial recognition technology in residential spaces. There is no reason NYC tenants should have to give landlords their biometric data in order to obtain or maintain a home.”

Civil rights organizations, privacy activists, and legislators are working to curtail surveillance technology in housing, schools, and law enforcement. San Francisco, Oakland, and Somerville MA banned police from using facial recognition technology earlier this year. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke recently introduced the “No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act of 2019” to prohibit facial, voice, fingerprints and DNA identification technologies from public housing. State Legislators Brad Hoylman, Linda Rosenthal, and Latrice Walker have introduced related legislation in Albany. Passing the KEYS Act would put New York City at the forefront of curtailing surveillance in rental housing.

“I am proud to support Councilman Brad Lander’s KEYS Act because we must keep surveillance out of homes in New York City,” said Representative Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09). “Our most vulnerable communities are constantly put at risk due to policing and profiling at the hands of landlords and we must take measures to ensure they are protected. The KEYS Act is a great complement to my bill — the No Biometric Barriers Housing Act — which would prohibit the usage of facial and biometric recognition technologies in most federally funded public housing. I am proud to work with Councilmember Lander in our shared mission to ensure New Yorkers are protected and not profiled in NYC housing units.” 

Monday’s hearing will include testimony from tenants, housing attorneys and privacy advocates. The KEYS Act will be heard alongside bills sponsored by Council Members Donovan Richards and Ritchie Torres that require transparency and reporting around the use of biometric surveillance technology, such as facial recognition, by businesses and property owners. 

“This bill recognizes the importance of privacy protections for tenants and brings into focus the threat of technologies like facial recognition being required for access to residential buildings,” said Daniel Schwarz, technology specialist at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The City Council should move forward with requiring mechanical keys and other safeguards so that all tenants can walk through their front door without being subjected to invasive surveillance technologies.”

“No New Yorker should have to give up their privacy to get in their own front door,” said Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn. “Electronic key fobs are giving landlords disturbing amounts of data about how tenants live their lives, but emerging technologies like facial recognition are even worse. These systems keep a perpetual log of our every movement in building hallways. Even worse, these systems are biased against women and New Yorkers of color, especially black women. Over-policed communities shouldn’t have to fear a visit from the NYPD because of faulty facial recognition, especially in their own home. Some systems even claim to monitor our moods, giving landlords invasive mental health information they’d never have had before.”