The use of electronic surveillance in the form of security cameras is becoming more commonplace within homeowners associations. Security cameras are typically utilized to: (i) serve as a deterrent to criminal activity; and (ii) capture images that may be used as to capture criminals and provide evidence of the criminal activity. With the Use of Security Cameras by HOA, there are issues and legal ramifications that the associations should be aware of.
As a general rule, it is permissible for a homeowners association to install security cameras in those portions of the common area that are subject to management by the association, with the exception of areas where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as restrooms or changing rooms. Typical common areas where security cameras are found include entries, pool areas, recreational facilities, parking garages and hallways. While there are not current laws that mandate the posting of signs which provide notice to people in the area of a security camera that they are being filmed, the posting of such signs may serve as an added deterrent to those in the area of the camera from engaging in unlawful activities.
While “dummy” cameras (devices that look like a camera, but are not) are frequently used as a deterrent, it is not a good idea for HOAs to use them because they can subject the association to potential liability for creating a false sense of security to those who under the impression that the area where the dummy camera was located was actually being monitored. The same holds true for broken or inoperable cameras.
When security cameras are installed, there are issues created as to how the cameras are monitored and who is entitled to view the recorded images. Is a person going to be utilized to monitor the cameras, or will the signals from the cameras be fed to a computer or password protected website that may be accessed by all homeowners? Larger associations may have budgets that include security personnel that can monitor the security cameras, but small associations do not. Thus, the smaller associations will need to devise cost efficient ways to monitor the cameras. Consideration should also be given to who is entitled to view and obtain copies of the recorded images that are stored in the system.
Well placed security cameras can be a worthwhile investment for homeowners associations in order to deter criminal activity, violations of HOA rules, and to catch and convict those who do engage in such wrongful activities. If utilized, HOA management personnel should avoid having cameras installed in those areas where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy and make certain that the cameras are properly maintained and operable at all times. Additionally, the cameras should be capable of recording to a medium that has adequate storage capacity and the ability to easily review and retrieve the images recorded by the various cameras, and appropriate rules should be adopted and provided to all association members regarding the ability to view and/or obtain copies of images that are recorded by the security cameras.