The bill aims to protect tenants' privacy by making it illegal for landlords to obtain, access or use any facial recognition technology.
Photo courtesy Nelson Management

Residents at Brownsville’s Atlantic Plaza Towers are alarmed by their landlord’s plan to install a facial recognition system at the entrance of their complex, reports Gothamist.

Tenants at the 700-unit rent-stabilized complex, located at 249 Thomas S. Boyland Street and 216 Rockaway Avenue, were first notified about the plan last fall. Nelson Management Group, the building’s landlord, had requested state approval in July 2018 to install a facial recognition system known as StoneLock. The technology, according to StoneLock’s website, offers a “frictionless” entry system that collects biometric data based on facial features.

In January, the residents, concerned for their privacy and civil liberties, filed an objection with the New York Homes and Community Renewal Agency, the state agency in charge of rent-regulated properties.

For Mona Patel, an attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services which is representing the residents, the fact that such a technology is planned for a housing complex in Brownsville, a gentrifying section of Brooklyn, is raising concerns of tenant harassment. 

“The larger picture raised more questions about why the landlord is taking such a drastic step,” Patel said. “In this building, in the middle of this gentrifying neighborhood, you’re installing this particular type of security complex. Why?”

Brooklyn Legal Services sent a letter to HCR, stating that studies have shown that facial recognition technology “disproportionately impacts the elderly, women and people of color.” The organization also criticizes that the landlord has given no assurances to protect the tenants’ data from being accessed by government agencies like the NYPD or ICE.

Since Nelson took over Atlantic Plaza Towers, surveillance has been an ongoing concern, according to residents who claim that the company installed security cameras and used them to monitor tenants as they bring packages inside their building. Tenants have received emails with specific descriptions of these packages, along with warnings that items like space heaters are not allowed in their apartments.

To address the residents’ concerns, Nelson Management held a presentation on the proposed facial recognition system last month. But the tenants still feel uneasy about possibly being subjected to a system that collects their biometric data.

Stating convenience and enhanced security as reasons, NYC landlords have increasingly been opting for keyless entry systems. According to Gothamist, it is unclear how many apartments in the city are using facial scanning software and how the technology is being regulated. Over the years, HCR has ruled in favor of key fob and card entry systems, based on the premise that they don’t violate rent-stabilization and rent-control laws.

Nelson Management’s request to install the facial recognition technology is currently under review, HCR stated.

“HCR’s Office of Rent Administration evaluates all applications for service modifications, and both owners and tenants have the opportunity to submit relevant information prior to a determination,” a spokesperson for HCR said. “This application is currently under review, and HCR is committed to providing due process for tenants and owners as required by law.”

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