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Security Camera Laws in California: Frequently Asked Questions

Renting property comes with big risks—property owners never know when a tenant or a visitor may destroy something. Even when property owners vet tenants before entering a lease agreement, they cannot predict how tenants will treat the property once they move in. 

Most landlords see apartment security cameras as a logical investment that addresses these concerns. Apartment security cameras protect their investment while also protecting tenants from theft, vandalism, and violent crime.

But, before installing security cameras in apartment buildings, savvy landlords familiarize themselves with California apartment security camera laws governing what property owners can and cannot do with security cameras. 

The following article addresses property owners’ top questions about California apartment security camera laws.

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Can you record someone without their knowledge in California?

Surveillance recordings of tenants is legal in California. However, before installing cameras, landlords must consider whether the recordings violate a person’s constitutional rights or reasonable expectation of privacy in the recorded area. Landlords should look to California video surveillance laws and local laws for answers. 

California Penal Code §647, for example, offers guidance for apartment security cameras. This law makes it illegal to secretly look through a hole or opening into the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, or the interior of any other area in which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy. This law also makes it illegal to conceal a surveillance camera to secretly videotape and view the body of, or the undergarments worn by, another person without consent.  

Further, if apartment surveillance cameras record sound, it’s essential to note that California does not permit audio recordings unless all parties consent to being recorded. And, even if tenants agree to audio recordings in their lease agreements, those recordings cannot be areas where tenants can reasonably expect privacy.

Are voice recordings admissible in court in California?

California Penal Code §632 finds that to admit an audio or video recording of a confidential communication in court, the landlord must follow the “two party” or “all parties” consent rule. Under California law, every party to the private conversation must have given permission for the recording for it to be admitted in court. 

Is it legal to video record someone in California?

The California Constitution guarantees the privacy of its citizens in the workplace, schools, government buildings and other property. Article I, Section I, Declaration of Rights declares landlords violate privacy rights when they install video surveillance in a location or context where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. Apartment security camera laws in California, for example, allow CCTV near entrances and exits of an apartment building but not inside an apartment. Tenants have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes.

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Where can landlords point security cameras?

Apartment security camera laws in California law prohibit recording in any location where tenants have a reasonable expectation of privacy. These locations include restrooms, locker rooms, private changing areas, and inside an apartment.  

Landlords also cannot use cameras to monitor a tenant’s private life. A landlord can install a security camera outside an apartment door. However, if the camera angle allows a full view of the apartment when the door opens, it violates the tenant’s right to privacy. A landlord also can install surveillance camera near a window but cannot position the camera to see through the window. 

Shared common areas within the building can have security cameras. For instance, landlords can install security cameras in a lobby, gym or pool area, shared kitchen, hallways, or storage areas. They also may install security cameras outside the building at entrances and exits. 

Do I have to post a sign for video surveillance in California?

Though not required, the State of California encourages property owners who use video surveillance to post video surveillance notices around their property. The signage removes the expectation of privacy because the landlord provides clear notice that tenants are being recorded. 

Can I sue someone for recording me without my permission in California?

Each state has their own laws governing the legality of secretly recording a conversation. California’s laws are the toughest in the nation. 

Penal Code §632 makes it illegal to monitor or record confidential communication without the consent of all parties involved. Without this consent, conversations captured by audio and video violate a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. This rule applies even if someone is threatening you or you want to record a workplace conversation. 

Individuals who record private conversations without consent or knowledge of the other party face fines of up to $2,500 per violation and up to one year in prison. They may also face civil liability if the other party files a civil suit. Fines in civil liability cases can be up to $3,000 per violation.

Do I need a permit to install a security camera in California?

Most local and county governments require landlords to acquire a permit before installing security monitoring equipment. It is important to check with municipal and county governments to get specific permitting information and acquire necessary permits before installing apartment surveillance cameras.

Do I need a license to install security cameras in California?

California requires a state contractors’ license to install surveillance equipment on public property. Licensed contractors carry liability insurance and warranty their installations. The California State License Board gives contractors a license number and requires them to display it on all advertisements and wherever the company’s name and/or logo appears.

It is essential for property owners to check into apartment security camera laws in California then follow these laws to the letter. Security cameras that meet the laws of the land help protect their investment while also providing the protection tenants deserve. Apartment security camera systems that do not meet legal requirements open a landlord up to liability.

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