The rise of remote monitoring systems and smart homes means that landlords can monitor the state of their property in ever more detail. But this raises questions: is monitoring cost effective? Is it legal? Is it ethical? Below, we open the can of worms, helping you decide what’s OK and what’s not.
How can landlords monitor tenant activity?
Landlords have always been able to get some information about what their tenants are up to through routine inspections of the property. However, smart home systems, wireless cameras and other modern technologies mean it’s possible for landlords to get a much more detailed insight into their tenants lives than ever before – it would be possible for a landlord to:
– fit a remotely monitored security, fire or flood systems, and be notified of any incursions or emergencies
– install a smart meter, and know how much gas / electricity their tenants were using
– fit a smart heating control, and change heating settings remotely
– wire in smart plugs and/or lighting and switch these on/off remotely
– fit electronic locks, and thus know when tenants come or go
– install cameras inside or outside the home, and monitor activities directly.
As you can see, the options range from sensible – “landlord is also notified if there is a fire / break in” – through to invasive – “landlord can see what’s going on in the living room, live”.
Tenants have rights
Every tenant in the UK has the right to privacy and the right to live in the property they rent undisturbed. It is illegal for the landlord to violate these rights, and landlords can face fines or prison if they do. Intrusive monitoring, shutting off utilities (such as capping heating, electricity or gas usage with a smart meter or smart thermostat), changing the locks (or remotely changing the electronic key pad code) and so on can all be grounds for landlords to be fined or jailed.
Acceptable levels of monitoring
It’s reasonable to engage in monitoring or remote changes to the property (such as switching something off/on) if the tenant freely agrees to this and can easily say no. For example, you may have security systems in place that would theoretically let you monitor when your tenant comes and goes, such as CCTV or electronic locks, but if they are run by a third party security team your tenant is unlikely to care. You might also discuss installing other remote monitoring systems, such as leak alerts, fire, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
It’s also acceptable to install more security and monitoring in communal areas than private ones. For example, if you own a block of flats, you may set up security systems, including CCTV cameras, in communal areas, such as the hallway or lobby, or outside, such as monitoring bike racks or car parks, while ones inside the flats themselves would be invasive.
If you are renting out part of your own home, for example having a lodger live in a spare room or an annexe, then you may include greater monitoring and controls in your lease agreement, although these requirements should be made clear up front before the tenancy begins. For example, if your lodger pays a lump sum, rather than contributing separately to bills, you might set a cap on electricity, phone, or internet usage but these should not be unreasonable, sudden surprises, or otherwise unfair or invading the tenant’s privacy.
When none of your tenants stay more than 2 weeks, your needs as a landlord are very different. Smart home systems and remote monitoring, as described above, are much more useful and appropriate for landlords operating holiday rentals and short term accommodation such as serviced apartments. As an example, while switching your tenant’s heating off remotely would be wildly inappropriate as the landlord of a long-term tenant, as the owner of a holiday home, being able to reset or switch off the heating/cooling system remotely when the property is empty can be very useful and save a significant amount of money. Some remote control and monitoring services that owners of holiday lets might find useful include:
– Security system monitoring – professionals will monitor and respond to emergencies and alarms raised by door/window sensors, leak detectors, fire, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, CCTV and more.
– Smart energy monitoring – know how much energy your property has used without having to physically go and read the meter.
– Smart thermostats – monitor and control temperatures remotely, letting you make sure the heating is on low when guests have left (stop pipes freezing and save money) but high when more guests are due (welcome them with a warm house).
– Smart plugs and sockets – turn off ‘risky’ appliances, such as stoves, remotely once guests have left.
– Programmable lights – set a pattern to make it seem like the house is occupied even when empty.
– Electronic door locks – give guests a code to get in, open the door for repair services or the police remotely and more.