Can Landlords Install Security Cameras?
July 26, 2023
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A Tenant’s Guide To Security Cameras
As a tenant, privacy and security are two of your top priorities for a rental home. But what happens when these two concerns are at odds with one another?
On one hand, you want your landlord’s help in protecting your community from theft, vandalism, crime, violence, etc. You might feel safer if your landlord installs security cameras to ensure suspicious activity is monitored and investigated. But on the other hand, a camera in every corner can easily feel like a breach of your personal space. Does feeling safe in your home come at the cost of your own privacy?
Managing privacy and security is a delicate balance regulated by state laws. Let’s take a closer look at these laws and the legality of rental surveillance in your rental community.
Do Apartment Complexes Have Cameras?
In general, do apartment complexes have cameras installed to monitor the rental community?
Yes, most apartment communities have security systems with video cameras. Cameras are often installed in common areas like parking lots, hallways, stairwells, pools, gyms, and other spaces that are considered public.
For many tenants, the presence of security cameras is reassuring. Cameras indicate that the landlord or property management company takes security seriously on the premises. They also ensure that management has a way to follow up on reports of suspicious people or activities. But the line where these cameras start to feel invasive is a fine one.
Apartment Security Camera Laws
Let’s take a look at what the law says about the use of security cameras in a few different ways.
Does My Landlord Need to Notify Me About Security Cameras?
In most states, it’s likely that your landlord is not required to notify you about a video-only camera installed in a public, easily visible place. You’ve likely seen these cameras around—they aren’t meant to be secret or discrete; their main purpose is to dissuade crime and let people know that the area is being surveilled.
However, in most states, installing a video- or audio-recording camera in a private place without consent is against the law. Here’s an example from Michigan’s penal code:
A person shall not: “Install, place, or use in any private place, without the consent of the person or persons entitled to privacy in that place, any device for observing, recording, transmitting, photographing, or eavesdropping upon the sounds or events in that place” (MCL § 750.539d(1)(a)).
Here’s another example from Florida’s statutes:
“A person commits the offense of voyeurism when…[they] secretly observes another person when the other person is located in a dwelling, structure, or conveyance and such location provides a reasonable expectation of privacy” (Fla. Stat. § 810.14).
There are still some stipulations and restrictions across states and localities—some states have workplace or apartment security camera laws that require employers or landlords to give notice of the location of security cameras. In many cases, however, your landlord will provide you notice of video surveillance whether by signs or as a clause in your lease to inform you that security cameras are recording and avoid legal liability.
Can My Landlord Record Video and Audio?
Although video-only recording is permitted in public spaces in most states, audio surveillance laws are much stricter.
According to the Federal Wiretap Act (18 U.S.C. § 2511), it’s illegal to record audio without the consent of the person being recorded. This means it’s illegal for your landlord to install audio recording devices in or around your home, apartment, or rental community without your knowledge, even if it’s in a public space like the hallway or tenant lounge.
Where Can My Landlord Install Cameras?
As mentioned above, video-only cameras are typically O.K. in public places. For apartment communities, public spaces where cameras would usually be allowed include:
- Laundry rooms
- Parking lots
- Leasing offices
Your landlord should NOT install security cameras anywhere that you have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” This includes completely private spaces like inside your apartment, condo, house, or garage in addition to public spaces with an expectation of privacy like public restrooms or gym locker rooms.
How Can My Landlord Use Security Camera Footage?
Footage that your landlord captures on a security camera can only be used for its intended purpose: for surveillance and safety monitoring. It can’t be used to spy on you, your family, or other tenants.
Most of the time, security footage is used for just that: security. It’s helpful to your landlord to have security footage if, for example, you report a missing package from your front door. Additionally, if a serious crime were to occur near your property, security footage can help police identify responsible parties and view a play-back of the crime.
How to Find a Camera in Your House
Short-term rental owners have recently come under scrutiny for camera surveillance. VRBO forbids the use of any device that captures video or audio inside a property, and AirBnb forbids the use of hidden cameras or cameras that monitor private spaces like bedrooms or bathrooms.
Here are some tips for how to find a camera in your house, apartment, or vacation rental if you think one might be hidden illegally:
- Use a flashlight to look for reflections on the lens.
- Check the rental unit’s wireless network to see whether video- or audio-recording devices are connected.
- Inspect smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, light bulbs, clocks, and other devices that could be cameras in disguise.
If you do find a hidden camera, don’t touch or remove it. Contact the police and have the camera investigated for fingerprints or other evidence that could help identify and charge the person who placed it there.
Can I Install My Own Security Camera?
As a tenant, you have the right to install security cameras on the property you’re renting. You can put a security camera anywhere inside your home or on your property, even in private areas. However, your security camera can’t violate another tenant’s reasonable expectation of privacy (i.e., you can’t aim your camera into your next-door neighbor’s window).
Keep in mind that your landlord can still have their own rules for security cameras and enforce them if they’re written up in the lease. Be sure to check your rental agreement before installing cameras to ensure you aren’t accidentally violating any privacy or maintenance terms.
The bottom line on security cameras: Yes, your landlord can install them, so long as the camera is video only and installed in a public place with no reasonable expectation of privacy. Policies on providing notice for video camera surveillance are largely left to individual states, so it’s important to review your state and city’s laws if you have concerns.