I would like to add multiple cabins onto my smartthings

We are restoring an old cabin near Seattle with the specific intention of designing it as a vacation rental with smart home integration. This will allow us to manage and care for the space from a distance.

I have two questions that I hope the community can help us with. The first is that I’m searching for any advice on how to integrate with existing smartthings controls? Specifically that we have our primary residence already set up on the system but are looking for advice on basic ways to add additional homes without getting too confusing. If this first cabin is successful we would like to add more so you can imagine how this might bog down the system quickly.

Our second question has to do with privacy. We of course want to build in convenience and safety, we are adding smart locks, smoke and carbon detectors etc so we can open the home and monitor basic safety. But at what point would people stop feeling comfortable with our digital access into a cabin they are renting? Obviously we won’t set up any cameras inside the house but I’m wondering at what point would people stop feeling like they are getting a value added experience and start feeling like they are being monitored? What steps can we take to make visitors feel comfortable in a smart vacation cabin?

Check local code and a lawyer, seriously. Camera’s inside MUST BE A BIG NO. It will be an invasion of privacy.

Hi Joel,

For integrating the cabin with your existing ST setup, that should be no issue with a secondary hub and whatever devices you would like onsite. You could even add a wall mounted tablet and ActiON Dashboard from 625alex to have local access without requiring guests to install ST.

But my big questions for you are related to power and Internet. Are both easily available and reliable? Otherwise you may encounter issues with excess notifications and system reliability.

My next point would be that you may end up losing potential renters because they don’t want to feel monitored. Additionally, isn’t one of the big attractions for your cabin going to be getting away from it all? People may not feel that with a “Smart” Cabin.


Thanks David,

We are going to be walking a fine line with this project and yes, some guests may be turned off by a smart cabin. But the rewards for us far out weigh the losses and frankly making this into a smart home is what makes it financially and realistically possible for us. Imagine being able to make a custom access door code for each visitor as opposed to driving an hour each way to drop off a key. Also imagine the benefits of being able to turn on the water and heat remotely so that when guests arrive everything is ready to go.

I like your idea of adding a dashboard for guests, that in itself would probably help guests feel empowered. Internet and power should be somewhat reliable, from what I understand smarthings is coming out with a battery backup soon? That should help. But yes, we have a responsibility to make it empowering for us while still making it private for guests, and that is a real challenge.

Yes, people rent a cabin because they want to get away…but ironically one of the first things that people ask is about internet access. People seem to want to get away and binge watch Netflix these days. We have a few cabins started and at least one of them will be totally off grid without internet but we are having to come up with a whole different price structure and maintenance schedule to make that feasible remotely.

Agreed, no inside cameras. Not even an option.

But almost all hotels now have card key locks. This is somewhat an invasion of privacy that we have all gotten used to as it allows large hotel chains to track when we are coming and going. Also smoke detectors are linked in almost any chain hotel.

My question is where do we draw the line? Maybe having a smart lock and monitored smoke/CO detector is all that is appropriate? But if that is the case then how do we monitor for security when the cabin is empty? How do we make guests feel comfortable with any level of monitoring?

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Our extended family often rents a vacation home. My personal feeling is that anything that monitors the space independent of people being there is seen as a plus and anything that monitors the presence of the people inside the home is potentially seen as kind of creepy.

So monitoring temperature, outside light, humidity, moisture sensors, smoke detectors is all good. Electronic door locks are fine. Driveway motion detectors are ok with most people, not all.

Interior motion sensors that generate log entries are usually not ok. Same with interior open/close sensors unless they’re on cabinets renters are not supposed to open anyway. (Lots of vacation homes have a locked closet for the family’s own stuff, a detector on that would be fine.)

Interior motion sensors that don’t generate log entries and aren’t networked will be ok with many people, but not all. A lot of vacation homes have motion sensor safety lights on stairs or night lights in the kitchen and bathrooms, that’s viewed as a convenience, not an intrusion. But if the same night lights generate log entries, that becomes intrusive.

A burglar alarm type perimeter sensor system that could be controlled by the renters during their time of occupancy should be ok with most people, but not if they can’t turn it off if they want to.

My personal feeling is that it’s less about what happens inside the home than it is about who knows what’s happening. Once there are log entries or real time monitoring of human activity INSIDE the home, it’s potentially a privacy violation. I don’t want the landlord to know what time we usually go to sleep or how many people are together in which rooms.

OTOH, anything that would require a 911 call is appropriate for remote monitoring, including fire, gas, and flood detection.

Again, just my own reaction.

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My take on this is that just calling it a smart cabin does not in and of itself bring to mind the idea that someone is being “monitored”, or their privacy invaded. Yes, you would have access to logs of things like motion sensors and temperatures, but so what? You certainly don’t have to advertise that, and it’s pretty far fetched to think that the log data would be used to invade someone’s privacy. You would have no reason to have to disclose details about the underpinnings of what makes it a smart cabin, and it would be an oddly paranoid person who was worried about it.

I think if you just “advertise” the positive benefits of a smart cabin to prospective renters, and simply be silent about the concerns you’ve raised in this thread, all would be good. Suppose your cabins had a conventional alarm system with motion sensors. Would someone necessarily think their privacy was being invaded because the alarm monitoring company could theoretically know about their motions in the cabin? Not likely.

Some people are more concerned about privacy than others, but that doesn’t mean they’re paranoid. Most Europeans grow up with a different sense of privacy rights (applied in law) than Americans, and logs of interior motion detectors would be considered intrusive.

If Brittany Spears or Taylor Swift or even Joe Biden is going to rent a cabin, someone is going to want to see any logs that exist.

If a wealthy person is involved in a bitter divorce, the existence of logs raises concerns.

None of these people are “oddly paranoid.” Granted, they’re a fairly small subset of the general population–but so are those who rent vacation homes. :wink:

Hotels run into this issue all the time. Guests want both security and privacy, and higher end hotels find their guests care more about both. Most hotels have added elevator security cameras, but a number of high end hotels have removed hallway cameras after guest concerns. So the hotel has a log of when an entrance door was opened, but doesn’t actually have a record of who went in.

A lot of it obviously comes down to the target market. If it includes vacationing Europeans, I think logs are an issue. If it includes anyone whose activities get reported by the media, logs are definitely an issue. If it includes any family in the 1%, logs may or may not be an issue. If it’s mostly college kids from middle class families, logs probably aren’t an issue.

But again all this only applies to human activity inside the home. Smoke detectors and door locks shouldn’t be a problem.

But how would they even know there were logs in the first place?

Excellent question!

  1. In some jurisdictions, you may be required to disclose it. In most of Europe, you almost certainly would have to. If you advertise a US rental property through a broker (including a website) covered by European law, you will have to disclose monitoring. In the US, it will vary.

  2. Americans who care about such things, for whatever reason, will usually know enough to ask. “What system are you using? Are there logs?”

Since the original poster is considering the business case aspects, then it comes down to his target market. Will they ask? Will they care? If they do care, can he turn off the system during that tenant’s occupancy? Is he aiming for an upscale tenant or a bunch of broke college kids?

Disclose what? Logs? Monitoring?

As to logs: Does the cabin ISP keep logs? Would the landlord be under some obligation to disclose to a renter that the ISP is keeping logs? What about the power company logs? Etc. If the answer to that is “no”, then the answer to the question, does the landlord have to disclose that SmartThings performs some internal logging of data?, is also “no”.

As to monitoring: If the landlord were to keep an ActiON webpage open showing everything in the cabin, and had someone monitor that screen, or monitor it himself, then there could well be a disclosure obligation and I can see why people could be concerned about that. But if instead, the landlord only monitored for Smoke/CO2/Flood, that monitoring could be disclosed, and rather than scare anyone would provide some comfort that if fire broke out someone would call 911.

The use of motion sensors inside the cabin to turn lights on and off is a green energy initiative. No one monitors the comings and goings of the people inside the cabin, or even how many people are there. The motion sensors simply turn on lights. I think the same argument applies for other inside automation, e.g. smart thermostats that save energy when the cabin isn’t occupied. None of this sort of thing is an invasion of privacy. It’s all done to be more efficient and provide a better experience for the renter.

If some savvy renter asked what system do you use? I’d say, “The smart cabin is equipped with SmartThings.” Are there logs? “We don’t keep any logs.” Does SmartThings keep logs? “SmartThings has internal system logs that are discarded after 7 days.” Can anyone access those logs? “Access to those logs is restricted to authorized maintenance personnel, and as a practical matter, it never happens… BECAUSE, the SmartThings system is so rock solid and dependable!

Sorry, couldn’t help myself… :innocent:

Never make assumptions about what the law allows you to do based on logic–that’s like basing assumptions about what a Home Automation system does based on their marketing materials. :wink: If you’re a landlord, it’s best to consult a local attorney. The answer is never simply logical!

A utility company and a landlord are covered by completely different areas of law in most jurisdictions with regard to privacy rights of residents.

As for what motion sensors are used for…there ARE people who have asked questions in this community about using motion sensors to determine occupancy. SmartThings even gives examples in their blog about knowing that a particular cabinet or door was opened when a particular person was home.

And there was a question in this community in the last week or so by a landlord who wanted to come up with a way of counting the number of people sitting at the breakfast unit in a rental because he didn’t trust his renters to be honest about how many people were staying there.

There’s the question of what the technology can do, what the local law allows you to do, what you yourself would want to do, and what some other person might want to do.

Rarely is there perfect congruity between all four answers, and in landlord law, even less so.

You yourself consider motion sensors purely a green energy device. Many people think of them first for intruder detection. People like me who are quads rely on them for touchless switches. And I’m sure there’s a group who will use them for surveillance.

This specific thread started because of a landlord use case, so privacy issues will apply in many jurisdictions. The interior sensor itself isn’t a privacy intrusion, but once it notifies the landlord or records logs it may be. It’s just a question of local law, not logic.

Good points Bruce. The more I think about how much potential monitoring happens in a traditional hotel with card keys to access elevators, rooms etc. This really wouldn’t be too much different and I never really thought about it much until we started to develop our own system.

Talk to a lawyer. In most US jurisdictions you can monitor up to the point of entrance, but monitoring INSIDE a rented residence is a completely different issue. Tenants do have an expectation of privacy, and judges get pretty strict on this.

You will not find hotel key cards tracking a person’s movements inside the room in the US.

Minibars commonly have motion sensors these days, but their use has to be disclosed. Bedrooms with motion sensors to turn on lights usually are not logged in US jurisdictions and cannot be monitored by hotel staff. Minibar sensors, OTOH, are logged and sometimes even used to schedule refills. Same technology, but one is considered an on demand service and the other would be a violation of privacy. You can use smoke detectors, but not something that tells you whether a person is in or out of bed.

The technology exists–hospitals and long term care facilities use a lot of it. But that doesn’t mean an individual landlord can do so legally, regardless of intent.

So don’t rely on what you think is logical–check with a lawyer before doing anything that would give you the landlord knowledge of what the tenant is doing inside the residence. Some uses will likely be allowed, like the sensor on the locked cabinet, others may not be. But local law will vary.

For example, in some states only one party has to give consent to record a conversation, in other states both must. There’s no logic to it, it’s just a matter of local legislative preference.

Interesting points JD, and this is where I get a little stuck. Besides offering conveniences for guests, I do have the same sort of basic security needs that any remote cabin owner has. So I’m wondering if I can I turn off logs? If there is motion inside the cabin when nobody should be there I would want to know but I have no need to track motion when guests should be present and I don’t need to keep logs. I can’t really imagine an effective security solution that would not involve a motion detector however.

I don’t know what the logging options are with ST, that’s a good question! Hopefully someone will know.

If logging can’t be turned off, talk to a lawyer–it could be as simple as telling the renters there’s a system and getting them to sign an acknowledgement.

It could be physically removing the interior security sensor when you check them in and reinstalling it when they check out.

or it could be that in your jurisdiction motion sensors that don’t individually identify a person are legal, even if you only rented the cabin to one person. (Again, don’t assume logic will apply here!)

From a marketing standpoint, I think most people are fine with perimeter sensors as part of a security system, things that tell you if an exterior door or window was open or shut. It’s when you get to interior sensors where you the landlord can tell that nobody slept in the second bedroom that you run into expectation of privacy issues, legal or not.

OK, logic doesn’t equate to the law. However, common sense should guide anyone as to whether consulting an attorney is called for in any particular situation. Interestingly, a quick read of Washington’s landlord disclosure requirements shows nothing about inside smart devices, monitoring or anything remotely resembling this topic. Tenant privacy rights are concerned with landlord entry into the premises (yea, yea, is a motion sensor an “entry” – good for attorneys to haggle over). A good attorney can always find something that needs billable hours.

It’s always a bad idea to seek specific legal advice from an internet forum. At some point every landlord has to make the decision whether they’re going to run the operation with a business mentality, which may mean occasionally consulting a local attorney, or whether they’re just going to close their eyes and hope for the best.

Not sure what resources you were checking, but the state of Washington has very strict anti-surveillance laws in areas where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, including tenants in their residence. (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.73.030 (West 2012), Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.73.080) No interior video and no audio recording in Washington unless you have prior consent of both parties. Landlords in Washington are usually advised to use video only for exterior devices, audio just gets very tricky there. (In addition there is a federal right to privacy under the Constitution that applies in all states. This is why undisclosed nannycams can’t be placed in the nanny’s bedroom or bathroom in any US jurisdiction.)

None of that says what would happen with undisclosed interior motion detector logs, and to be honest, if a tenant wants to sue it’s probably just going to come down to the individual judge, it could go either way. The problem from the landlord’s point of view with violation of privacy cases is that the person often claims a lifelong trauma afterwards, which significantly increases any potential financial award.

If It were me, I’d get consent as part of the standard rental agreement for the use of networked interior sensors whose intended purpose was to provide home automation control, but again, it’s best to see a lawyer.

I talked briefly to a lawyer, it sounds like a brief privacy statement in the lease agreement is a good idea regardless of motion detector within the residence. Which of course is covering some new ground and he wants to write if for me $$$!

In the mean time I’m going to keep looking into blocking the logs feature and/or coming up with a security plan without a motion detector.

It sounds like Smarthings is coming up with some big upgrades this summer so I’m probably going to hold out and see what those are before I jump in on this.