Any landlord knows that just because the lease doesn't allow pets, subletting, or any number of illegal activities to occur on the premises, some tenants play by their own rules. Unless you make periodic house calls (of which you need to give tenants at least 24 hours notice), you won't necessarily know about lease violations. Finding extensive and needed repairs after the tenant leaves is never a good thing.
A possible answer: Amazon's Astro robot (Or is it?)
The Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) Astro robot is marketed to homeowners, but real estate investors can use it, too. The name "Astro" is a nod to the Jetsons dog from the 1960s futuristic cartoon. But Amazon's Astro acts more like the Jetsons maid Rosey. Amazon must have figured a dog-like robot would probably be more relatable and less intimidating than a human-sized robot following you around the house.
Whatever the reason, Astro, the dog-like robot, can perform surveillance functions, bring you a drink (or other objects), deliver messages and reminders, and play an Amazon Prime show or video call on its 10-inch screen. It uses artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision, and sensors. What might be of interest to landlords is the monitoring feature that provides Astro's owner a view inside the home.
What do renters think?
It's tempting to have a surveillance camera in and around your rental property. In fact, many tenants either request one, such as a Ring doorbell, or install one themselves.
Installing a surveillance camera inside the home is another story altogether. An IPX1031 survey found that 11% of guests found a hidden camera in an Airbnb rental, which translates to 58% of survey respondents who said they're now concerned about hidden cameras -- and they don't like that.
Said Albert Fox Cahn of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, "Tech companies once promised a future like Star Trek, but Amazon is trying to sell us RoboCops. And while these products promise safety, they're really a threat." On the other hand, Ben Wood, of market research firm CCS Insight, told CNN Business that some consumers are willing to accept privacy tradeoffs for the feeling of security.
Astro would not be a hidden camera, like what those untrustworthy Airbnb hosts installed. And 24% of Airbnb guests said they're OK with cameras they know about in common areas such as the living room and kitchen. Astro can be programmed to avoid certain areas like bedrooms and bathrooms.
Should landlords get one?
Astro will cost $1,500 once it comes to market, which is around a month's rent for many landlords, so it's expensive. Also, it would be risky to ask prospective tenants whether they'd allow you to put Astro in the home. Most would probably run as fast as they could to another rental.
And if they allowed it, you'd definitely need to include the use of Astro in the lease. But even then, there'd be no guarantee renters would use it. Astro is probably not a good landlord tool in most cases while you have tenants in the property.
But Astro might work for landlords with vacant properties, which are subject to theft and vandalism. You can remotely send Astro to check on all the rooms. However, on the other hand, you could install motion detectors or a home security system for less money -- although such devices wouldn't be nearly as cute. (Astro is designed to be cute to alleviate any worries that it's watching your every move.)
The real estate investing takeaway
While the time isn't here just yet (and might never be) for landlords to consider equipping their occupied rentals with a surveillance device, vacant properties are another story.
If Astro catches on, projections from ABI Research indicate that 79 million homes globally will have some sort of robot in their smart home by 2024. If you don't want to buy one for your rental properties, you might want to invest in companies that make home robots.