With the ubiquity of smartphones and smartwatches, landlords are increasingly installing smart locks – electronic front door locks operated by applications installed on various smart devices – throughout the United States.  Smart lock software is in more than 125,000 units nationwide.  Further, the smart lock market value is forecasted to reach $8.80 billion globally by 2028. California tenants will likely increasingly be forced to contend with smart locks when selecting a new home.  And, some landlords may attempt to switch traditional key locks with smart locks, likely to surveil and harass California tenants.

Given the technologies’ newness, California law has yet to modernize to offer California tenants any protection from landlord smart lock abuse.  Therefore, landlords are virtually free to surveil California tenants, harass California tenants, excluding California tenants, and perform instant, digital lockouts.  Moreover, no California law protects California tenants that must use smart locks.

While no California law directly regulates smart locks, California tenants may invoke the following laws to protect against landlord smart lock harassment and retaliation:

California tenants may also likely bring claims for landlord smart lock abuse under nuisance, breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, privacy violation, and retaliation theories.

Further, it is unclear how California tenants in existing tenancies will fare where their landlord seeks to swap their traditional physical lock and key with smart locks.  Language in the written lease may require the landlord keep the physical lock and key installed.  California tenants in certain rent control cities may also be able to keep their physical lock and key set installed by pointing to a just cause provision prohibiting material changes to the written lease.  For example, San Francisco tenants need not sign a proposed written lease containing materially different lease provisions.  San Francisco Administrative Code § 37.9(a)(5).  These tenants may be able to argue changing the locks violates the written lease and they need not sign a new written lease as it fundamentally changes a key component of their tenancy.

And, the California tenant may have a data breach claim against the smart lock application, and possibly their landlord and property manager, where the California tenant’s personal information is compromised in an unlawful data breach.