Testimony of the Real Estate Board of New York to the Committee on Housing and Buildings of the New York City Council Concerning Int. 1170, Int. 1672, and T2019-4579

Zachary Steinberg

Vice President Policy & Planning

October 6, 2019

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REBNY thanks the Council for the opportunity to testify on the use of biometric monitoring and forms of tenant access in buildings.

REBNY understands there is widespread concern about personal data and privacy. From social media hacking to sales of personal data, to data breaches, technological advances have made individuals’ sensitive information available for misuse. Further concerns have been raised about the potential for these systems to discriminate against people of color. In light of these serious issues, REBNY supports efforts to develop an appropriate regulatory regime and appreciates the opportunity to help do so in the City of New York.

Biometric data systems, which detect unique human physical and behavioral characteristics, have created new opportunities with respect to building management and security. For example, it was widely reported that late this summer the New York City Police Department was able to use private building biometric systems to identify and apprehend a serial burglar from Florida. The suspect had come to New York ten times over the course of five years, breaking into homes and stealing property valued in excess of $400,000. The advanced biometric technology in private buildings greatly assisted NYPD in his apprehension.[1] REBNY recognizes the operational benefits of these advancements and hopes to see them continue.

For these reasons, regulation must strike an appropriate balance that allows for legitimate uses of these types of technologies while upholding privacy and data security while preventing discrimination. Furthermore, such local regulation must be consistent with State and Federal laws as any conflict now or in the future would prevent the City from accomplishing its goals.

BILL: Intro No. 1170-2019

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring businesses to notify customers of use of biometric identifier technology

SPONSORS: Torres, Espinal, Rosenthal, Rivera, Moya, Rose, Cornegy and Lancman

Int. 1170 would amend the New York City administrative code to require commercial establishments to place a sign or notice in a visible location near the entrance when biometric data systems are in use. The sign would inform entering customers that the businesses uses biometric data systems, identify the technology, disclose any data protection measures and whether the information is shared with third parties.

REBNY appreciates the value in informing the public when their biometric data is being collected and also believes that these monitoring and data capture technologies offer great services particularly for security in heavily trafficked entrances.

To improve the bill, we believe that greater clarity is needed in defining the circumstances in which these disclosures would be required. Specifically, while the term “commercial establishment” in the bill provides specific types of businesses offering goods and services to the public, the current language could also extend to private properties where even non-public-facing business occurs. REBNY believes the bill will be most effective if it is applied only to businesses that are directly selling goods or services to the public rather than places of business where no direct consumer transactions occur.

BILL: Intro No. 1672-2019

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring real property owners to submit registration statements regarding biometric recognition technology utilized on the premises

SPONSORS: Richards and Kallos

Int. 1672 would require real property owners that utilize biometric data systems to report the use of the technology along with information about the buildings and details about the systems to the City. The proposal would further require certain information about use of these systems in individual properties to be posted on the City’s Open Data portal.

REBNY understands the Council’s goals of better understanding the use of these systems in buildings across New York City. However, while certain disclosures to the City and public may be warranted, it is important to balance that priority with the legitimate security benefits provided by these systems. As drafted, the proposed legislation asks both commercial and residential buildings to reveal and publicize potentially sensitive security information that may put tenants’ safety at risk. Including this information in one system serve as a virtual honeypot for hackers and other wrongdoers, potentially placing the property and tenant security at risk.

Further, Int.1672 would require all property owners to disclose the use of biometric systems including instances such systems are used to help manage those directly employed by the property (for example to assist with employee time-keeping). Requiring the registration and disclosure of systems appears to go beyond the goal of the bill.

BILL: T2019-4579

SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York and the New York city building code, in relation to defining the term key and requiring building owners to provide keys to residential tenants


T2019-4579 requires that all residents of buildings be given a key to their unit dwelling as well as all building entrances. The bill defines a key as a piece of shaped metal with incisions that can be put into a lock to open and close a door.

Recent instances in which keyless security systems in buildings have been installed has appropriately brought troubling situations to the fore. However, the proposed legislation would pose significant risks to the safe operations of buildings and their tenants.  

Recognizing the security benefits of technology-enabled keys, many buildings have not used hard metal keys for several decades. This does not necessarily mean the use of biometric locks. Many buildings use fobs or cards with magnetic strips because, unlike metal keys, they can be easily deactivated at the end of a lease and are not easily replicated. Further, recent technology empowers the tenant to conveniently manage security in their own units. Some application-based locks give tenants the ability to remotely unlock their units to give access to service providers like dog-walkers, baby-sitters, and repair persons. Requiring all units to have a metal key would subvert all the benefits of the more advanced systems and also reduce security as having two means to open the door of a residential unit is significantly less safe.

REBNY appreciates the Council’s concern for tenant access but is very concerned about requiring the installation of metal-keyed locks in all exterior entrances and that all tenants be given keys to such doors.

Many residential buildings in New York City do not use a hard metal key to open and close exterior doors. This is the case because doing so would expose the building and its residents to greater risks. Metal keys can be lost and are easily replicable, both of which would potentially grant unwanted persons access to the building. If this bill were to be law, if any of the tenants in a building loses the key to the exterior door and the landlord is not notified, the safety and security of all occupants is put at risk. Moreover, some larger buildings lock certain ingress doors at night to better ensure the security of the building and tenant safety. For this reason, we believe it is inappropriate to require all buildings provide all tenants with metal keys to access all exterior doors.

Thank you for considering our views.

Topics Covered

  • Housing