Many Landlords are interested in installing surveillance cameras to protect Tenants and deter crime and vandalism. The presence of surveillance cameras can prevent break-ins, burglaries, and suspicious activity on your property. However, surveillance cameras can be a touchy issue, as they raise privacy issues for Tenants.
While Landlords need to consult with state and local laws before installing cameras, as a general rule, the legality of such cameras depends on where and how they are used. Here’s an overview of what Landlords need to know about surveillance cameras before installing them on their property.
Where Can Cameras Be Used?
When considering installing cameras, Landlords need to consider whether an area is a common area or a private area. Common areas are those spaces where any Tenant could pass through, for example, the lobby or parking garage, and private areas are spaces that only the Tenant can access.
This distinction is important because there is no expectation of privacy in common areas, but tenants have a reasonable expectation of privacy in private areas. Landlords should not install cameras anywhere that Tenants have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This includes their rental unit, shared bathrooms, pool changing areas, and laundry room.
Beyond this basic guideline of not installing cameras in private areas where Tenants have a reasonable expectation of privacy, here are some other things to keep in mind when determining where surveillance cameras can be used:
- Cameras can be installed in common areas like driveways, parking garages, outdoor spaces, lobbies, hallways, and stairwells
- Do not put cameras in common areas where Tenants would expect privacy, for example, bathrooms, changing areas, pool showers, or the laundry room
- If you install a camera outdoors, make sure it only faces the shared outdoor space and does not point towards any windows in your property or your neighbors’ property
- Cameras should always be visible; do not use hidden surveillance or spy cams
How Can Surveillance Cameras Be Used?
Beyond where cameras are installed, a significant factor in determining the legality of cameras is how they are used. Landlords should follow the rule that cameras should only be used for surveillance.
The objective should always be safety monitoring and surveillance, and cameras should never be used to watch or gather personal information about Tenants. Using cameras for this purpose is harassment and can be punishable by law. It’s worth noting that the inappropriate use of cameras can lead to fines, criminal charges, and even jail time.
Finally, it’s important to highlight that cameras that collect audio recordings raise several additional privacy issues for Landlords to consider. Given the complexities that this type of recording presents, it should not be done without consultation with a local attorney.
Some states require that specific forms be completed before surveillance cameras can be used, and it’s essential to check your local and state laws before installing cameras. But whether it’s required or not, it’s always a good idea to inform Tenants about the use of cameras. This can be done through language in the Lease Agreement or a Surveillance Camera Addendum to the Lease.
Having Tenants sign a disclosure acknowledging and consenting to the appropriate use of surveillance cameras gives Landlords an added layer of protection and is an excellent way to build trust with Tenants. After all, cameras are used to protect Tenants, so proactively addressing the issue will help alleviate Tenant concerns and strengthen the Landlord-Tenant relationship.
Visit ezLandlordForms.com to Create the Forms You Need
In addition to following the above rules and using a disclosure, Landlords must consult state and local laws about surveillance cameras. Visit ezLandlordforms.com to draft a Surveillance Disclosure, find a local attorney, or create a new Lease Agreement.
Emily Koelsch, ezLandlordForms Contributing Writer
Emily Koelsch is a freelance writer and blogger, who primarily writes about business, real estate, and technology.