New Technology Brings Up New Issue to Consider

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This past week we had a new kind of wrench thrown into the system.  It came in the form of “Smart Home” technology.  You know those commercials we see on TV all the time showing that via cell phone or computer, we can now control our entire home from a distance … lock doors, adjust thermostat, turn on/off lights.  You’d think that would be pretty cool for a vacation home … until you look at privacy laws.

Even though not all vacation rental owners are rushing to install these new computerized systems, a few owners do have them.  In our experience these systems are sometimes complicated to operate manually, and can be a challenge for tenants.  Once the system is understood by our staff and explained to the guests, the technology is amazing … that is up until the owner calls to complain that the tenants have the A/C turned down too low or up too high, that the widows are open or the doors left unlocked.  Of course the owner jumps to the worst case scenario and as the manager of the vacation property, we have to intervene.

Which is exactly what happened this past weekend.  An owner with a “Smart Home” system called to report that they were receiving alarm signals on their cell phone indicating that the A/C was on and the windows and doors were open.  They asked that we contact the tenants to let them know that they were receiving alarms and that the A/C system would automatically shut down when the doors and windows were open … which we did. Throughout the weekend there was a power struggle between the A/C system shutting down and the tenants turning the temperature further down to get the system to work.

On Monday morning we received a call from a very upset tenant stating that he was going to file a law suit against the owner for invasion of privacy.  In addition to monitoring the windows and doors, we found out that the owners had turned the A/C up when they felt that the temperature was set too low.  Legally it would have been within the tenant’s rights to sue and possibly win a small claims suit against the owner.  Even though the owner did not set foot within the property the tenant was being monitored and their use of the property controlled remotely by the owner.  Consequently, the tenants were upset and had an uncomfortable vacation.  In this instance there were other circumstances surrounding the rental which may have prodded the owners into watching their home more closely.  Being the Coachella Fest weekend, one of the country’s largest and most popular three day music festivals, there is a very real risk of over populated “party houses”.  All of our vacation rental owners are on edge.  Regardless of the circumstance, owners and vacation rental management staff must know and abide by the law.

Overview and California Civil Code

In short, the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment is a guarantee of sorts that the landlord will not permit either himself or someone else from interfering with the tenant’s use and enjoyment of the rental unit. This implied covenant was established all the way back in 1927 in California Civil Code 1872 which stated: “An agreement to let upon hire binds the letter to secure to the hirer the quiet possession of the thing hired during the term of the hiring, against all persons lawfully claiming the same.” Since its enactment, California cases have set out to define in greater detail what this covenant is and what it is not.

The latest in personal “Smart Home” technology is now widely used in the vacation rental industry, allowing door locks, security alarm systems, A/C-heating units, lights and pool heaters, to be monitored and controlled remotely.  In this surveillance sensitive age, all vacation rental owners and management staff must be made aware of the civil codes and laws that surround the privacy of their tenants and the boundaries and even the possibly that legal disclosures will have to be implemented to protect the tenants, owners and their management staff.

Thankfully a close associate of Vacation Rentals of the Desert has a long history and on-going relationship with the tenants mentioned above.  Thanks to her intervention, an amicable settlement was reached.  In this ever changing industry … another lesson learned.

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