“It feels like they don’t care enough to have a real person talk to me.”

Talk to the Hand

Are you ready for an AI-automated future? Even if you’re not, turns out you’ll have no choice — because your landlords are diving straight in.

It hasn’t quite taken the real estate world by storm yet, but, as The New York Times reports, some property managers are using AI chatbots to handle the inquiries — and complaints — of their tenants, both existing and prospective.

Like any good landlord, these bot-barons also do the dirty work of harassing you to pay your rent — and whether it does that in the usual chirpy AI tone or a stern voice, is up to the client.

Such chatbots are provided by companies like EliseAI, based in New York, which serves the owners of some 2.5 million apartments across the US, according to the NYT. They’re meant to be as humanlike as possible, CEO Minna Song told the newspaper — and are maybe a little too good at playing the part.

“People come to the leasing office and ask for Elise by name,” Song said.

Customer Disservice

Some tenants aren’t thrilled about their new intermediary overlords. For Ray Weng, a software programmer, it’s made apartment-hunting even more soul-crushing than it already is. In many cases, he was forced to speak to an AI about renting a place, which would give vague and even repeated answers. Showing up in-person was no better: even the tours were self-guided.

“I’d rather deal with a person,” Weng told the NYT. “It’s a big commitment to sign a lease.” He added that “if it’s all automated, it feels like they don’t care enough to have a real person talk to me.”

At the very least, these AIs are on call 24/7. Gone are the days of getting ghosted by your landlord when there’s a problem that needs fixing. On the other hand, a tenant might feel a little insulted, as in one example about EliseAI’s capabilities NYT cited, when a bubbly chatbot simply sends them a video about how to find the water shut-off valve after complaining about leaky plumbing.

Full Disclaimer

An AI chatbot in any customer service role raises a bunch of thorny questions. What if it confidently tells a tenant wrong information, or makes a promise its human masters can’t make good on?

We’ve already seen examples of how this could play out. Earlier this year, Air Canada was forced to pay damages to a man that bought a ticket after its AI lied about the airline’s bereavement policy by saying he would receive a refund.

What’s also murky territory is whether the chatbots should be required to declare that they’re an AI upfront. EliseAI does not, as there’s no laws forcing it to. Sounds a little sleazy, and some experts think that if landlords are going to salvage the little trust that tenants have in them, being honest in this area would probably be best.

“All things considered, it is better to have your bot announce at the beginning that it is a computer assistant,” Alex John London, a professor of ethics and computational technologies at Carnegie Mellon, told the NYT.

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