VOLUME 1RIs Smart Technology a Smart Decision for Tenants?By Juliana Torres-Mason
In the creation of the smart home, security is increasingly an important factor.

Revenue from the global smart home market is expected to grow into a $158 billion industry by 2024, more than tripling its size compared to revenue in 2017, Precise Security reported. And of the many types of smart features that tech-savvy residents are looking for, smart security has been high on the list.

In 2020, the world was on par to spend $19.4 billion on security systems alone. Smart security cameras and remote-access smart locks are among the top sellers in that industry.

Fortunately, keeping rental properties relevant in the boom of smart technology options doesn’t have to involve a steep investment. The technology upgrades renters have come to expect are accessible both financially and technically. In fact, property owners may find themselves falling in love with the benefits that come with installing smart tech security in their properties.

Smart Locks and Smart Monitoring System Help Tenants Feel SaferIn 2019, Software Advice surveyed 335 renters about what kinds of smart technology would entice them to choose a particular home. Smart home monitoring and smart door locks polled as the top two favorites—with more than a third of respondents wanting smart home monitoring and a quarter saying they’d want a home with smart locks.

Smart home monitoring systems involve cameras that allow residents to keep an eye on their front door or key rooms in their homes. This allows them to monitor a myriad of home activity: looking out for potential intruders, checking on their pets, making sure the babysitter is following instructions, etc. The feed for most smart home cameras is uploaded into a cloud server via Wi-Fi and then streamed live from residents’ phones or computers.

Smart locks, one of the most prevalent smart home features, can be easily installed onto existing main entrance doors. Instead of using a physical key to get inside the home, residents unlock the front door by entering a code or using their phone, either through Bluetooth connectivity or by scanning a code on the screen. Some higher-tech locks can even sense a resident’s approach via the cell phone in their pockets, then unlock the door automatically.

Smart locks carry the additional benefit of allowing residents to open the door even when they’re far from their homes. MultiFamily Executive confirmed that smart locks were central to residents living in an increasingly service-based, on-demand economy. Smart locks could, for example, let the dog walker in during the workday.

For townhouses and single-family homes, a smart garage door opener can provide additional peace of mind to renters. Making the garage door smart will allow them to open and close it from their cell phone, rather than keeping track of a separate mechanical device. Many models also can alert residents on their phones if the garage is open when it shouldn’t be.

Risks to ConsiderOf course, installing new technology like smart home security comes with potential complications and risks. First and foremost are the privacy concerns. Even logging into an app for a smart lock may require personal information that could make residents uncomfortable. The industry is not without its horror stories of smart tech upgrades going badly, and tenants don’t want their homes added to that list.

The National Apartment Association advised that landlords should take three steps to mitigate privacy issues with tenants regarding smart tech upgrades.

First, residents should be well-informed about any potential smart tech upgrades to their homes—and well in advance of the actual install. Tenants should have the option of an in-person meeting to field questions and objections ahead of time.

Second, residents need the ability to opt out of any or all of technology upgrades applied to a unit, even if they’re already installed. Even if smart home upgrades are popular, there are still those who won’t be interested, won’t use all the features offered or will just be resistant to the perceived loss of privacy.

Third, the National Apartment Association suggested property managers take a hands-off approach to managing or monitoring the tech, letting residents interact directly with the smart tech companies to decide what happens to data that’s collected. Many smart security systems are designed to deny landlords access to the camera feed or information like when residents are coming and going while the unit is occupied.

Overall, installing smart security systems involves an inherent level of trust between tenant and property owner, whether that trust is acknowledged or not. Tenants should check to see if local laws regulate the use of security cameras within rental properties.Buying and Installing the TechLike most technology upgrades, smart home tech can range from simple devices to elaborate and integrated systems. It’s important to thoroughly understand not only initial installation costs but ongoing costs, too. If the property owner will pay for ongoing costs or include it in the rental fees, this should be clarified. If it’s on the tenant to pay for any additional monthly fees, this should be fleshed out, too.

Let’s assume smart locks and smart cameras are the two most promising add-ons that a tenant wants (and chooses to pay for).

Smart Lock Considerations for Tenants
  • How much should be invested on a smart lock?
  • Should the smart lock allow tenants to see and talk to whoever is at the front door?
  • What smart home system (such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit) should the smart lock integrate with?

Quality smart locks can range from $100 to $400 per door. PCMag.com reports that the smart locks its reviewers tested are easy to install, and most are designed to use predrilled holes on standard doors. While property owners will still need to remove the old lock and likely hardware like deadbolts, the whole process should take between 10 to 25 minutes.

Smart Camera Considerations
  • What areas should be monitored with the smart cameras? How big is the space?
  • Should there be a separate Wi-Fi network in order to more securely connect the smart home tech?
  • Should a company monitor the cameras? How much is the monthly service fee?
  • What system should the smart camera be integrated with?

Surveillance companies that monitor smart security feeds on the tenant’s behalf can charge an average minimum fee of $40 a month and usually require a contract. Do-it-yourself (DIY) security system kits and smartphone mobile apps—without a monthly service fee but a higher level of involvement in setup and monitoring—can range from $40 to $400.

Individual indoor security cameras can range from $20 to $300, depending on the features. This can be a matter of placing a camera or smartphone on a flat surface to monitor activity. Some mobile apps will take free screenshots of movement via smartphones, but real-time videos, recording quality, cloud-saving software, human-only monitoring and timed monitoring are often tied to an annual payment plan.

Smart Garage Door Opener Considerations

  • Will the Wi-Fi network reach the garage?
  • Should there be additional features, such as voice controls, geofencing and scheduling?
  • Does the model require a monthly fee?
  • What system should the garage door integrate with?

A quality garage door opener that fits right onto the existing mechanics can range from $30 to $100, according to CNET. Most models require only a few steps to install, with an adhesive strip over the existing opener and a sensor for the garage door itself. Others can completely replace the garage door opener for a price tag of $700.

Getting the Landlords’ PermissionTenants interested in installing their own smart tech devices should consult their landlord before upgrading. A new smart lock or additional security system will keep landlords from accessing their own properties without the tenants’ consent. That may or may not be legal, depending on the state laws where tenants live. Landlords might clarify the issue by prohibiting lock changes or the addition of security systems in the lease agreement that tenants signed when they moved in.

Even if they’re initially resistant, a request from tenants to purchase a smart upgrade on their own may convince landlords of the value of the tech—and persuade them to invest in the upgrades themselves.

If the landlord does approve a tenant-purchased upgrade, tenants should keep the original supplies like doorknobs, locks or garage door openers that they replaced. When they move, landlords may want to reinstall the original hardware.

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Smart home security that allows residents convenience, control and peace of mind is a wise investment. With solid research and key purchases, the property owner can give the property attractive relevance in a booming—and increasingly smart—rental market. And as long as the tenants and property owners are on the same page (in written form), this can also be a stress-free way to protect the property and make residents feel more secure both inside and outside the home.