April 1, 2023

SCUMLORDS: How a tech guy with a fraud conviction is helping NYC landlords screw tenants

SCUMLORDS: How a tech guy with a fraud conviction is helping NYC landlords screw tenants

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A shortage of affordable housing, stagnant wages, and increasing rents has seen evictions rise in the past few years and a new technology marketed to landlords of rent-controlled properties has some worried that the country’s already growing unhoused population will only get bigger.

Apartment surveillance company Teman has targeted landlords in New York City – already facing a crisis of affordable housing and a less-than-livable minimum wage – with headlines like, “You CAN raise rents in NYC,” on promotional emails.

“We have EVICTED OVER 600 STABILIZED TENANTS in the last 2 years,” he wrote in 2018 LinkedIn post.

Housing advocates are concerned that increased surveillance could affect Black and Latino communities, which are already marginalized, Nick Kepler at VICE wrote.

“For me, it’s really alarming because when you see the sales pitch for some of these products, it’s far more invasive than just seeing who’s at the front door,” the executive director of surveillance watchdog, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), Albert Fox, said.

Founder Ari Teman claims to have started the technology surveillance company after Airbnb tenants caused over $67,000 in damage to his Chelsea apartment.

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Teman claims to have been surprised by a “rowdy sex party,” when he returned briefly to pick up his luggage.

Something then-32-year-old David Carter denied in a 2014 interview with the New York Post.

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“I had six people, friends, and family. He is making a big to-do because he is being evicted.”

Teman’s story led to the tech entrepreneur’s partnership with Israeli makers of military technology and artificial intelligence facial recognition software in place of keys to enter.

While NYC is seen as a surveillance and technology epicenter, questions have been raised regarding the data collected being used to target rent-controlled apartments and their tenants.

Instructing landlords on how to re-regulate a stabilized unit, and “catch,’ renters violating their lease by subletting the unit – like operating as an unauthorized Airbnb – or breaking the law, according to VICE.

First, use one of Teman’s automated products to catch a tenant breaking a law or violating their lease, such as by having unapproved subletters or loud parties. Then, “vacate” them and merge their former apartment with one next door or above or below, creating a “new” unit that’s not eligible for rent protections. “Combine a $950/mo studio and $1400/mo one-bedroom into a $4200/mo DEREGULATED two-bedroom,” the email enticed.

We’re nearly three years into a worldwide pandemic that saw an increase in evictions and exacerbated a growing homelessness problem.

When a tenant is evicted, for whatever reason, it can make it more difficult to find suitable and affordable housing,  an issue compounded by the gentrification of lower-income neighborhoods.

Home prices are increasingly out of reach, leaving many in the country relying on the grace of landlords.

For those in certain income brackets – and less than perfect credit – large deposits, and income requirements makes things that much more difficult.

In 2021, the Tenant Data Privacy Act was passed in NYC. Beginning in 2023, landlords using this sort of technology will be required to disclose privacy policies and how they intend to use the biometric data.

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VICE reported that anti-eviction mapping expert Erin McElroy released a report on the systemic history behind what she calls “landlordism,” going back to the days of slavery – reinforcing racial biases.

“Illegal sublet detection systems such as this reinforce anti-Black and plantation histories of landlordism in the U.S., in which landlords maintained policing power to ‘catch’ slaves and tenants breaking what had become white supremacist property law.” – Anti-Eviction Mapping Project

While Teman wants to catch tenants breaking the law for the purpose of evicting them, he himself has a criminal record.

After being convicted of bank fraud for making withdrawals from clients’ accounts without their consent in 2020, the entrepreneur reportedly sought a pardon from then-President Donald Trump.

Original reporting by Nick Kebbler at VICE News. 

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

Ty Ross

News journalist for Washington Press and Occupy Democrats.

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