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My Building Has Replaced Our Keys With an App. Is That Legal?

Q: I moved from New York City to an apartment in New Rochelle. Instead of keys, tenants use a smartphone app to open doors to the building’s lobby and individual apartments. The app often crashes when I use it, but I don’t have a key as backup. This policy was not disclosed when I signed the lease, which does not mention the lack of keys. Can a building refuse to give keys to residents? What about older people without smartphones? Or people with vision problems?

A: As long as you can leave your apartment and the building in an emergency without using the app, the landlord is free to use the digital technology as an alternative to a key. It’s similar to landlords providing key fobs or cards instead of metal keys, said Alan J. Goldberg, a Manhattan attorney who represents tenants.


And since smartphones are ubiquitous, it’s not unreasonable that your landlord would choose a technology that requires you to have one. “Almost everyone has a smartphone these days,” said Mr. Goldberg said. “I don’t think the courts will be sympathetic to that” if you challenge the policy.

However, as you mention, the app may not be accessible to tenants with disabilities, such as visual or memory impairments, or mobility limitations. A tenant with a disability must notify the landlord of their need for a reasonable accommodation, and request an alternative to the app, such as a traditional key. If the landlord does not comply with the request, the tenant can file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights.

For everyone else, the app will have to do. But it should work, and you mentioned that yours is unreliable. If the system fails, the landlord must fix it and provide you with an alternative method of entering the building and your apartment. Put your complaints about the problems in writing. If the landlord fails to address them promptly, file a complaint with the New Rochelle Building Bureau.

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