A group of Hell’s Kitchen tenants have won the right to physical keys after they sued their landlord for installing a keyless entry system that they claimed violated their right to privacy and amounted to tenant harassment.

The plaintiffs say the settlement is a first in limiting the use of keyless technologies in residential spaces, which is increasingly finding its way into New York City apartment buildings.

“This is a huge victory for these tenants and tenants throughout New York City," said Michael Kozek, the attorney representing the tenants. "These types of systems, which landlords have used to surveil, track, and intimidate tenants, have been used frequently in New York City."

On Tuesday, a Manhattan civil court judge signed off on a settlement agreement between five tenants at 521-525 W. 45th Street and the building owners, Shai Bernstein and Offir Naim, who in September installed a keyless or smart lock technology called Latch in a lobby, mailroom, and elevator. The technology, which offers users the option of accessing their apartments with a phone app as well as a keycard, has been installed in more than 1,000 buildings across the city, according to a recent New York Times story.

But the five Hell's Kitchen tenants, who remained through the building's recent renovations as protected tenants under the city’s Loft Law, said they did not want to use the system for fear of being tracked, either by the app or by keycard. They also said setting up the phone app was too complicated, and required a smartphone.

“It’s a house of cards,” Ron Sharpe, 65, told Gothamist. “It’s taking too much of your personal information to make it work.”

He added: “It was a means of passive harassment. I’m glad we don’t have to submit [to it].”

Charlotte Pfahl, another one of the tenants who filed the lawsuit, called the agreement a “relief,” saying they decided to settle because the lawsuit had already cost them "thousands of dollars."

“We didn’t want to continue even though we felt confident we would win,” she said.

Bernstein declined to comment. Naim and their attorney did not immediately return a request for comment.

According to court documents, the owners said they installed the keyless system as a security measure after a burglary in August 2018. They also said that tenants could disable the GPS tracking function on the app.

Prior to the settlement, a Latch spokesperson told Gothamist that the tenants were given keycards, and added that the software neither collects nor stores GPS data and it does not share users' personal information with third parties for marketing purposes. (The statement did not address whether the app collects usage data other than GPS.)

Nevertheless, the case has prompted proposed legislation. Democrat Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat who represents the Upper West Side and parts of Hell’s Kitchen, introduced a bill in March that prevents landlords from requiring a smart access system as the only means of entry, as well as limiting the kind of personal data that companies can collect.

Keyless technologies in residential spaces are currently unregulated in the U.S. But San Francisco is on the cusp of becoming the first municipality to ban facial recognition technology, another keyless entry method being introduced in buildings nationwide.

In Brooklyn, tenants have filed a complaint with the state over a landlord who is trying to install facial recognition system at a rent-regulated complex in Brownsville. Under state rules, landlords of rent-regulated apartments built before 1974 must seek permission from the state’s Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) agency for any “modification in service.”

Sharpe said the tenants were handed their keys on Tuesday evening, putting an end to months of inconvenience and legal drama and expenses on both sides. "It's not even a special key," he said. "It probably cost $2 at a hardware store."

UPDATE: In response to the story, a Latch spokesman issued a statement, saying that the lawsuit contained "many inaccuracies about how Latch works." He added: "At a private residence such as an apartment, the access history of individual residents at their home remains private to that specific resident alone and is never shared with anyone, including property management."