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Complaints at Broadway building part of pushback over adding ‘smart lock’ and home automation tech to apartments

(Image: CHS)

By Harley Rose

Complaints filed with the city against developers of a Broadway apartment building illustrate a growing tension for Capitol Hill renters, landlords, and tenants across Seattle over new “smart lock” and home automation technology.

Patent 523 tenants say in June Essex Property Trust  informed them by email that a SmartRent system was to be implemented at the Broadway apartment complex.

SmartRent is a home automation company that develops software and hardware for home owners, property managers and renters.. The application system acts as a control on smart home functions from a centralized application, including but not limited to heating, rent payment, and key code entry to a house or apartment. 

Tenants who want a year long lease renewal said they were informed that the code entry system would be necessary for the renewal. Notification of the installation of this application was posted in late October with a choice to opt out of the system by renewing on a shorter term lease.

The state requires a 48 hour notice before any landlord or property owners can enter an apartment in a non-emergency setting.

Two tenants who filed complaints and say they chose to opt out by signing a shorter term lease, tell CHS they had an event of entry without the required notification.

According to these tenants, on November 4, the installation day, “the SmartRent installers knocked on our door, waited a few seconds, then unlocked it and tried to enter. Thankfully my roommate was home and kicked them out.“ One renter describes the events as “definitely an unlawful entry since we received no notice and didn’t consent.”

CHS is not identifying the renters out of concerns over possible retaliation.

In September, The Stranger reported on the growth of the SmartRent industry in Seattle which can include smart locks, water sensors, touchscreen thermostats, smart plugs, and a wireless hubs. In addition to individual privacy and security concerns, the trend represents another challenge and expense for area tenants already dealing with high rents and limited housing choices.

One tenant CHS heard from said they are a security consultant and are frustrated with the process after not receiving a  response from management about their concerns, which lie mostly in the security of the building.

According to the tenants, they spoke with SmartRent to express that “no matter how good their product might be, we didn’t ask for it and it adds unnecessary complexity that puts our security and privacy at risk.”

Several complaints have been filed regarding this change, and according to a city representative, the complaints “haven’t been assigned or investigated yet.”

The official added that the “Prohibited Acts Ordinance echoes state law by requiring landlords to provide two days of notice before entering units to do necessary if agreed repairs. If they fail to do so, City of Seattle will start by educating the owners on the requirements and warning them. If violations persist, we could issue a Notice of Violation.” Since talking to the official, two of the statuses on the complaint page have been updated to “Under Investigation.”

Both Essex Property Trust and SmartRent declined to comment when asked about the issues.


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9 thoughts on “Complaints at Broadway building part of pushback over adding ‘smart lock’ and home automation tech to apartments

  1. **disclaimer: sorry for the essay, I just have a LOT of words to share on this topic :)**

    I live at this building and we were able to opt out, only because we did not sign a SmartRent addendum as part of our lease last year. Unless we don’t sign a new lease when it’s up and go month to month (which increases our rent by about $500+ a month), we will be forced into getting SmartLocks on our doors in order to renew. Needless to say, we will be forced out of our home when our lease is up, as in addition to having issues with the security of the SmartLock, I’m admittedly hard of seeing and VERY uncoordinated and will most assuredly get locked out if I have to use a keypad every time I need to enter my home.

    The “community manager” (if you call her that) of our building is notoriously non-responsive, she turns on autoreplies almost EVERY time i reach out regarding issues in our community, and it takes months of emailing her and the Essex regional manager to get issues resolved – IF they choose to resolve them.

    My neighbor had issues with the SmartLock after it was installed and upon expressing them to our LOVELY “community manager” she told him that he could end his lease early if he was that bothered. I wasn’t surprised that they would install a garbage “enhancement” in our building at all, but I was shocked to hear that they were willing to lose tenants over it.

    I’ve been a Capitol Hill resident for over 14 years and have basically lived at Joule/Patent 523 since it opened in 2010 so it’s really sad that the management has become so hostile, particularly about the SmartLocks but they have NOT been nice to me when bringing up normal issues like the cleanliness of our dog run and security (or lack thereof) of our mailroom, where most packages are just dumped since they took away package acceptance (despite listing it as an amenity on their site), among other things.

    My fingers are crossed something else in the neighborhood comes up with the same space/price/amenity combo but I have a feeling my days as a Cap Hill resident are numbered thanks to this.

    • Great! Now I live in dread that SHA will adopt something like this. A sizable number of people in this public housing building don’t have the required devices for various reasons.

    • R & your fellow renters:
      I am a renter too and the corporate behemoth that owns us is surely going to implement similar “rules” in the future. Already we can’t smoke pot in our apartments, even though it is legal in WA. Given that renters make up 40% of Seattle’s population, this is a pretty important general interest story of the egregious violation of your privacy rights. Kudos to CHS for covering. Keep up the pressure by telling your story to other news outlets as well. The last thing the company wants is to be embroiled in this controversy. Some tips to reach other media:
      1)Summarize the story in a clear, concise manner. Give it a headline “Renters Asked to Trade Privacy & Safety to Keep Leases.” Do underscore how difficult it is to find housing in Seattle these days and the incredible burden this technology places on residents.
      2) Email your story individually to news tip lines with your headline as the subject. Here are all the major local outlets:
      tips@q13fox.com//tips@komonews.com//newstips@kirotv.com//newstips@king5.com// Carolyn Adolph covers regional growth for KUOW: cadolph@kuow.org (cc: news@kuow.org) Seattle Times & Stranger list their reporter’s email addresses so easy sleuthing will find what you need.
      3)You’re going to get interest so be ready with tenants who want to talk. They can do it anonymously given that they’re still renters. The guy who is the security expert has incredible credibility. Have him talk but everyday tenants that are just worried about their privacy have equally compelling stories.
      4) Hope this helps.
      RISE AND ORGANIZE!

      • For CesarChavez, if you live in a non-smoking building, you can’t smoke anything in there even if it is legal, and this is partly because your neighbors end up breathing it too. As an asthmatic, and as a person who chooses not to do drugs, I am glad that a lot of apartments require this (although people break the rules all the time). No one enforces the prohibition about smoking it in public, you can go outside to smoke whatever you want to smoke (or use edibles).

        I think it’s horrid the building is forcing these locks on people. As everyone says, they are a privacy and security risk that should not be pushed on renters.

      • Hey Rain Worshipper- We can’t own any on the property. In addition to not smoking, no vaping, no pot of any kind, even edibles. Yes, edibles. Obviously you can get around this pretty easily but twice a year they do home inspections “to listen to fire alarms.” Theoretically, if they spotted any form of pot, you could be out regardless of the fact that it’s legal. F*&! the man!

  2. I moved out of a building recently because they were installing butterfly MX, a smart app keycode entry system. If I had stayed, then at the end of a one year lease, management would have had a list of dates, times, photos, and other data about every. Single. Visitor. For a year. I am not ok with Everyone on the management team having essentially mugshots of my visitors and myself emailed to them weekly. Is no one worried about data breaches? About untrustworthy individuals possibly having this access? I’m not ok with it so I moved, but what about those for whom moving is not as simple as throwing some things in a truck?

  3. My building installed Alexa ceiling fans/lights that are radio frequency controlled from an Alexa base station, but there are only 16 unique RF codes in a building with over a hundred units.

    Now there’s a voice controlled battle royal every night for who gets to sleep with the lights off.

  4. I have lived here in the past as well, and left because of seriously issues with the building management. After being injured on site due their maintenance staff leaving soapy water on the floor of the parking garage, I tried to alert them and they turned me away because they were having an all staff meeting. I later received an appology e-mail…

    That was only one of the issues I had with their staff while I was there, and as the issues became greater, the rent seemed to increase faster. I ended up leaving for another building (check out The Mill in First Hill) and had absolutely no problems there.

    The staff at this building is horrible, and I hope the City does investigate and take action against them.

    • Surprised you even received an apology from the incompetent management here…and glad you moved up and out! They REALLY try to not leave a paper trail too… always asking me to talk in person rather than divulging issues over email with the (also useless) regional manager cc’d… just all around sketchy people. I will never live in another Essex property again.

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