Think Twice Before Upgrading to Biometric Entry System
If you have rent-stabilized tenants in your building and you’re considering switching from a key- or fob-based entry system to a biometric fingerprint system, you may want to reconsider.
Generally, if you want to make any changes to the services and amenities you offer to rent-stabilized tenants, you must apply to the DHCR for permission to end or modify services. If you don’t, tenants can file a complaint. For example, a tenant may file a reduction of services complaint over a reduction in doorman service or use of an elevator. If the DHCR finds that there has been a reduction in service, it will lower the rent by a rent guidelines increase and freeze the rent at that level until service is restored.
In one recent DHCR decision, an owner preemptively asked the DHCR for permission to modify building services by installing a biometric fingerprint entry security system. The building already had a key fob entry system. The District Rent Administrator ruled against the owner, finding that the proposed system intrudes on the privacy of building tenants and that these privacy concerns outweighed any added security benefit that the proposed biometric fingerprint entry system may have.
The owner appealed and lost. Ultimately, the effect on tenants' privacy was too intrusive and therefore inconsistent with the rent stabilization laws and regulations. The DHCR Deputy Commissioner found that the privacy implications associated with biometric fingerprint entry systems go beyond those associated with DHCR-approved electronic keycard/key fob entry systems. Tenants of a building using a biometric entry system are required to share an extensive amount of personal information, identifying characteristics, and/or location data, and the owner didn’t show that any safeguards existed to protect against abuses of tenant privacy or preclude sharing such information with third parties [Rangoon Inc.: DHCR Adm. Rev. Docket No. GO410031RO (12/12/19)].