Residents at “keyless” building are suing… to get their keys back

It's a form of harassment, one rent-regulated tenant claims
March 23, 2019 03:00PM

(Credit: iStock, Pixabay)

Residents at a Hell’s Kitchen apartment complex are suing their landlord over technology they claim controls their movement in and out of their building.

The owners of the building at 517-525 West 45th Street installed a new electronic security system called Latch last year, replacing tenants’ keys to the building lobby with a smartphone app and electronic key cards, according to the New York Times.

The four tenants say they just want their old metal keys back, and allege the landlord is weaponizing technology to pressure rent-regulated tenants to leave the property.

“It’s a form of harassment,” Mary Beth McKenzie, one of the tenants in the lawsuit, told the New York Post. “What happens if your phone dies? I don’t want to be stuck on the street and I don’t want to be surveilled.”

The app is currently in use in more than 1,000 residential buildings in the city. Latch users create a profile on the app and can unlock doors on their smartphone or key card or punch a code on the device’s keypad.

While the tenants have physical keys that allow them to enter side doors that access stairwells directly to their apartments, the plaintiffs told the Post that some residents were elderly and had trouble going up flights of stairs. Residents are forced to use a keyless entry system — which can be access by a key card, not necessarily a smartphone — to enter the lobby that leads the elevators and mailboxes, according to the Times.

Residents who spoke to the Post said they were worried the app could be used by their landlord to track their movements.

Luke Schoenfelder, the CEO of Latch, told the Times that landlords can only view when tenants entered common areas, not their apartment units. Latch, which was not named to the lawsuit, said it does not capture, store or track location data of users and didn’t share personal data with third-parties for marketing purposes.

The owner is a LLC linked to investors Offir Naim and Shai Bernstein. In court records, they said the impetus for introducing the high-tech system to the building was a burglary last summer. Their attorney told the Times the lawsuit was frivolous.  [NYP, NYT] — Kevin Sun

Editor’s note: This article was updated to include additional reporting from the New York Times, including statements made by Latch’s CEO related to tenants’ claims that they could be surveilled.