3 Reasons Landlords Should Reconsider Selling Tenant Data to Marketers

7 Min Read

Data is for sale on just about every corner of the internet. Social media platforms have openly acknowledged selling user data and activities to marketers. That same data is freely available to marketers utilizing PPC ad campaigns. Businesses can launch ads to target the usual demographics, but they can also target users who have visited specific websites, joined certain groups, and “liked” specific interests.

Marketing corporations want as much data as possible to increase their reach across targeted consumers. Sometimes those marketing corporations reach out to landlords in an attempt to buy tenant data collected from biometric devices.

If you’re a landlord, here are 3 reasons to turn down solicitations for your tenants’ data.

1. Your tenants deserve privacy

Your tenants probably don’t get much privacy in other areas of their lives. For instance, grocery shopping with a club card tracks purchases that marketers use to solicit more sales. Shoppers collect and redeem gas rewards with a membership card, which means gas usage is also being tracked. Even credit card companies sell purchase data to a variety of sources including marketers and hedge funds.

Your tenants are tired of worrying about their privacy. The last thing they want is their landlord selling their data to companies that will further bombard them with advertisements. Worse, many tenants fear the day their landlords install biometric security systems like cameras with facial recognition software and fingerprint door locks.

Selling data can be a decent source of income, but it’s not worth violating your tenants’ trust. Even if you decide to be transparent about selling data by writing it into your lease agreement, tenants will be less likely to trust you. It’s hard to be a landlord when your tenants don’t trust you.

Tips for securing your property while respecting tenant privacy

  • Use standard security cameras. Instead of installing cameras with facial recognition software, stick with a basic Wi-Fi security system.

    Security cameras can make people feel safe, but only when they’re in communal areas where there is no expectation of privacy. For example, installing a security camera in the mailroom is a great way to deter mail theft and vandalism. Tenants are usually glad to have mail rooms under surveillance. However, it’s illegal for security cameras to capture footage of a tenant’s door or window.

  • Offer metal key options when switching to smart locks. Smart locks seem like the ideal security tool, but many tenants don’t want to use smart locks. If you’re going to install a smart lock that opens with an electronic key, a smartphone app, or a fingerprint, provide tenants with a metal key alternative. Some tenants will jump on the chance to use technology, but others will feel it’s a violation of privacy.

Recently, landlords in Manhattan decided to install smart locks and refused to provide physical keys to residents. Despite the locks having a numerical keypad alternative, five tenants sued their landlord and won the right to be issued physical keys.

Tenants were concerned because the lock company’s ambiguous privacy policy inferred it could use location data for marketing purposes. The company denied that GPS location data would be sold to marketers.

2. Your tenants might damage your property

A tenant who destroys a property is a landlord’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, many tenants end up causing severe, intentional damage to rental units when things don’t go their way. For example, a discussion thread on Bigger Pockets notes that angry tenants have:

  • Thrown couches from second-story windows
  • Stolen hot water tanks
  • Turned on the water in the bathtub before abandoning the house
  • Put concrete in the toilet
  • Sprayed graffiti all over the walls

Most damage is triggered by an eviction. However, privacy concerns could be an equally destructive trigger.

3. You might get sued

Whether you’re in the right or not, if you get sued you’ll have to show up to court and defend yourself. For example, in May 2019, tenants at the Atlantic Plaza Towers in Brooklyn filed a formal protest when their landlord planned to install facial recognition technology as the sole means of entry into the building. This technology was sold to tenants as an added layer of security, but tenants don’t want their data being captured and sold.

In addition to selling data to marketers, manufacturers of biometric technology have been piping data into databases that give investors and landlords access to information to help them target future investments based on value, debt, rent stabilization, and other criteria. If data is being collected, it’s definitely being used somewhere.

After fighting for more than a year, the landlord at the Atlantic Plaza Towers backed down on installing biometric technology. However, what happens when a landlord moves forward with a perfectly legal installation?

There are currently no laws that govern how landlords can and can’t use this technology and tenants aren’t afraid to file a lawsuit in hopes of winning and setting a precedent. If you end up getting sued, you’ll either have to spend a ton of money fighting the lawsuit or settling out of court. It’s just not worth the cost.

Be your tenants’ advocate

Your tenants want to trust you. They don’t want you to sell their data or make it available to anyone. Before installing biometric technology that captures and stores data, consider these points and do what’s right to keep your tenants happy.

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