4 easy ways to make your rental home smarter

Landlords, eh? All you want to do is bring your rented home into the modern era, but these property-owning party poopers won’t let you replace your locks, upgrade your light switches, or even tear out those 1950s wall sockets. They give you some nonsense about liability, about how your lease forbids you from rewiring things, and how they really don’t want you attacking anything with a screwdriver. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to add some smarts to your home that won’t upset the landlord or run the risk of electrifying you. Here are a few picks for making your rental space smarter. 

All the items selected here (except one) will work with Amazon, Android, and Apple devices. That’s because they work with the holy trinity of smart home systems: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit. Plus, because they don’t require professional installs or permanent wiring, you can take them with you when you move. 

SMARTER LOCKS

Most landlords won’t let you replace your locks (no surprise: in an emergency, they might need to get in). But you can still make your locks smart. The SwitchBot Lock fits over the back of your deadbolt lock, unlocking or locking the door on command. SwitchBot also offers the wireless Keypad Touch, which allows you to open your locks with a fingerprint or keycode or NFC tag. You can control the lock remotely, letting friends in when you’re out, or be notified when someone comes over, such as your landlord wanting to poke around. The downside is that it’s a rather obvious device that clips onto the back of your door. A combo pack of the lock, the hub that allows you to control it remotely, plus the fingerprint keypad will cost you $169.99. There’s even an app for your Apple Watch so you can open the front door with a flick of the wrist. (Fancy!)

If your landlord doesn’t mind your removing part of the lock, the August WiFi Smart Lock might work. This replaces the back part of the lock with a motorized mechanism, so the old keys still work, but you can also open the lock remotely or using the optional keypad. A bundle of the Wi-Fi Smart Lock and the keypad will cost you $234.

SMARTER SWITCHES

Most of the rentals I’ve lived in had electrical systems that I might euphemistically describe as retro, with old-style toggle switches that looked dated even in the ’90s. If it ain’t broke, most landlords think, why fix it, even if it was installed in the Reagan administration? You might assume that these clunky old light switches would be impossible to control remotely, but you would be wrong. The Adaprox Fingerbot Plus can automagically flick these old-school switches, using a motor to replace your finger. The best place to start is the $89.99 Pro Kit, which includes two Fingerbots, the hub that controls them, and the tool kit that allows it to fit onto and control a variety of switch types.

If your light switches are a bit more modern, like the larger rocker type, the redundantly named Switchbot Bot can turn the light on with a push and off with a pull, assisted by a sticky pad that attaches to the switch. This $29.99 device still leaves your light switch accessible, so you can still use your fingers to turn the lights on if you are feeling like going primitive for a bit. You’ll need the SwitchBot hub to control it from outside the house, though.

SMARTER SOCKETS

Want to control anything that plugs into a wall socket? Try the ConnectSense Smart Outlet 2. This $40 device plugs into a dual outlet wall socket, which your devices plug into, and voilà, you can control both over the internet or by voice. Plus, you can also monitor how much power your devices are using in the ConnectSense app, and the Smart Outlet 2 also adds a USB port to charge your devices. It is a bit on the bulky side, though, so consider the $20 Smart Connect EZ Lamp Controller if you just want to control a single device, or if you have single outlet wall sockets. If you want to control more than two devices, the Kasa Smart Wall Power Strip HS300 has six power sockets, each of which can be controlled individually through the Kasa app and with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. There is no support for Apple HomeKit on this one, though. Plus this $47 power strip has three USB sockets for charging.

SMARTER CURTAINS and BLINDS

Curtains are perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a modern smart home, but they can be as much a part of it as anything else. How would you like curtains that open automatically at dawn and close at dusk, making it look like you’re home when you’re not? The SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 fits inside your curtains, opening and closing them with a small, quiet motor. Do you have blinds rather than curtains? Soma produces devices that can open and close blinds that use beaded cords or tilt rods; but at $149 each, they are on the expensive side. Plus, they don’t support Apple HomeKit directly, although they do offer free software that can integrate with HomeKit with a bit of hacking.

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