Jul 31, 2013 · 2 minutes

Renting is ephemeral by default. You move in. You move out. Someone else takes your place. This encourages landlords to restrict what you can do with the property, whether it's by enforcing a rule against poking holes in the walls or by making sure that no-one in the building has access to a thermostat. It's their property, you're just living in it.

This makes it difficult to embrace many of the products meant to connect everyday objects to the Internet. Dropcam might be useful, but how're you going to install cameras without leaving a mark? It's hard to install a "learning" thermostat like Nest if your landlord won't even let you touch a "dumb" thermostat. And even if you do solve those problems, do you really want to uninstall, move, and re-install every connected product you own when your lease is up?

Some companies are trying to help you avoid those problems with plug-and-play products that don't need to be built into your walls or replaced when you decide to leave. Canary's home security product, which has raised over $900,000 on Indiegogo, simply needs to be placed in a corner of your apartment and plugged in. Belkin's WeMo products, which support services like IFTTT and essentially flip a switch based on external commands or motion, are little more than glorified electrical outlets. You plug them in, you set them up, and then you take 'em with you when you leave.

"We're developing a solution for the rest of us. It's a plug-and-play model, and if you live in an apartment, you probably only need one device," says Canary CEO Adam Sager. The company's product isn't meant to replace costly systems that have to be professionally installed and monitor every door and window of your home, he says. It's meant to offer peace of mind to people who can't afford those systems or aren't able to install them, like many renters.

This means that Canary, like other plug-and-play products, is easier to use than its more-complicated counterparts. It's also less capable. Other systems might be able to capture video from multiple cameras, monitor every nook and cranny, automatically alert emergency responders, and offer other features that Canary doesn't. The convenience of these products comes at the cost of their utility.

"We're looking at security not from a security company point of view, but from a user's point of view. Like, what's the most useful thing for them?" Sager says. "It's not to know when the upstairs bathroom window is open, it's to know what's happening in my environment and being able to respond to it." Sager and his co-founders are betting that it's better to have a little security than to have none at all. 

That might be enough for people who don't have any other option. Some 33.8 percent of occupied housing units are rental properties, according to the US Census Bureau. Roughly one-third of the population, then, could be living with the restrictions that make it difficult to install cameras, place sensors, or otherwise connect their homes to the Internet. It might not be as powerful or compelling as comprehensive solutions that become a part of the home itself, but renters are used to living with compromise.

[Image courtesy Kristian Golding]