There are plenty of reasons to have security cameras in apartment buildings–to deter thieves, to identify criminals, and to prevent damage to the building by vandals or even by nightmare tenants. But if you want to install cameras around a residential building, there are some laws and guidelines that you need to be aware of.
We’re going to talk about where you can install cameras, whether you can also record audio, and what information you need to give your tenants regarding surveillance–as well as a few recommendations for how and where to place apartment security cameras.
Where is it legal to install apartment security cameras?
As we go over these points, remember that these are legal guidelines that are generally true across most states in the US, but it’s very important that you refer to the relevant laws on the books in your own locality.
First of all, property managers and building owners can install apartment security cameras in all public areas of the building. This includes common-use areas such as:
- Laundry rooms
- Game rooms
- Entries and exits
- Parking lots of garages
Accordingly, property managers and building owners cannot install cameras in any areas where tenants have a reasonable expectation of privacy, or “the right to be left alone.”
This means at minimum no cameras in bedrooms and bathrooms, but generally extends to the entirety of the residential unit.
You should also make sure that your cameras don’t look in the windows of the units in your own building, or the windows of any neighboring buildings. Your neighbors do have a right to complain about CCTV cameras that they believe are improperly placed, so it’s much better to be very intentional about what areas your cameras cover and their specific field of vision.
Can a property manager install audio recording devices alongside security cameras?
This question has a different answer depending on which state you are in. In a general sense, according to the Federal Wiretap Act, “it is illegal to intentionally or purposefully intercept, disclose, or use the contents of any wire, oral, or electronic communication through the use of a device.”
In some states, it is illegal to install audio recording devices at apartment buildings, period.
Other states allow these devices in apartment buildings, but have the stipulation that the tenants must be informed of the location of these devices. If they are informed and still have private conversations near the audio recording device, the law in these states basically considers that they consent to have their conversations recorded.
In yet other states the property manager or owner must have written consent from any tenant in the building in order for it to be legal to record audio on the premises.
Obtaining this consent gets complicated when you regularly have new tenants moving into your apartment building. It may even turn away potential tenants, as people tend to be more sensitive to audio recordings of themselves than video security footage.
In most cases, it isn’t necessary to have audio recording along with video recording equipment and it is legally simpler to just have video. Properly placed cameras with high-quality picture definition are more than adequate for almost all apartment security issues.
What information about apartment security cameras do tenants have a right to know?
In all states, any apartment security cameras must be clearly visible–no hidden cameras.
You or your property manager must also inform the tenants that the property features cameras, as well as the areas that the cameras cover.
While you are not legally required to post signage that indicates that the property is covered by cameras, it may actually increase the overall security of the building if you do. The more difficult a building or property is to break into, the less likely thieves are to even try–the vast majority of burglars are opportunists who target places with obviously minimal security.
Security camera signs will also bolster your efforts to keep your tenants informed of where your security cameras are, as well as help them feel safer in your facility in general.
Conversely, tenants are legally allowed to install their own cameras within their units–as long as the lease does not prohibit it and as long as they don’t damage the building. For the most part these cameras run in the vein of video baby monitors or lightweight, Wi-Fi connected cameras.
Tenants can place cameras within their private areas such as bathrooms or bedrooms if they so desire, but in regards to their fellow tenants in other units, privacy laws still apply. They can’t have cameras that look into other people’s windows and, depending on the state, they can’t have audio recordings without the consent of everyone who enters the apartment.
For these reasons, it’s a good idea to have a section in your lease that discloses where your own security cameras are located and what information you are legally allowed to record, as well as stipulations regarding tenant-installed cameras.
How can you make sure your camera positions are optimal for both legal requirements and security concerns?
First of all, make sure you can access information on your local or state law regarding tenant rights and privacy law. It’s important to inform yourself about these laws before you start a security installation project. Websites such as FindLaw.com are a helpful place to start, or you can employ the services of a consulting attorney in your area.
Secondly, hire a professional installer to deploy your apartment security cameras. Even though you may be able to do the physical installation work yourself, a professional security installer can make the process better in a number of ways:
- Help you select and purchase the right camera for your needs
- Obtain the best angle and lighting for each camera
- Integrate your cameras with existing security measures, such as card readers, key pads, or other access control for a more efficient and comprehensive security system
Local installers are also well-versed in the practical application of privacy law and security cameras–an excellent complement to legal advice from an attorney.
Do you need to update and install a security camera system in your apartment building? Give us a call at (888) 333-4540, or contact us here for a free consultation and more information on how we can help you create a strong security system without running afoul of any laws!