Video Surveillance. In California, associations can lawfully install video surveillance cameras in the common areas so long as they are not viewing areas where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Areas where cameras cannot be installed are restrooms, locker rooms, and the like. Also, cameras cannot be installed so they peer into the interior of an owner’s unit. (Penal Code § 647(j).) Smaller associations set up a website that allows all owners to monitor common area cameras at any time day or night by logging onto the site. The website is password protected so that only members can review the cameras. Owners who see breaches can immediately take appropriate action.
Audio Surveillance. The principles applied to visual surveillance do not carry over to audio surveillance. Individuals have an expectation of privacy when it comes to conversation--they can lower their voices or stop speaking when they see someone approaching. Parties to a confidential communication must give permission to be recorded. (Penal Code § 632.) The exception is if participants could reasonably expect to be overheard or recorded. (Penal Code § 632(c).)
Posting Signs. There is no law requiring an association (or anyone who posts video surveillance cameras in public spaces) to post signs, give notice or to obtain prior consent to film areas where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. However, posting signs informing homeowners and other persons that the area is under surveillance may help increase the cameras’ deterrent effects and lower the likelihood of a claim that a person had a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Dummy Cameras. To save money, some associations install non-working security cameras to deter crime. Even if they deter some criminal activity, dummy cameras create potential liability for the association because they create an expectation in owners and visitors that the association is monitoring the common area. It is better to spend the money to have working cameras. In addition, the association should have a reasonable maintenance schedule so non-working cameras are promptly repaired.
Hallway Cameras. Associations can install hallway cameras as part of their own security system. There are limitations on recording conversations where owners may have a legitimate expectation of privacy regarding their conversations. Also, it is legal for homeowners to install a camera at their door that covers the hallway entrance to their units. If the camera is inside the unit looking through the peephole, that would be no different than an owner looking through their peephole to see who is standing in the hallway. If the camera is installed in the doorjam, the owner must have the association's permission since it is part of the common areas. Associations can prohibit door cameras that point at another unit owner's door, since it would record the interior of their neighbors unit whenver their door is opened.
Balcony Cameras. It is not against the law for an owner to install security cameras. Members in the common areas have no expectation of privacy because they are "in the public" and can be seen by others. However, residents may feel like owners are "spying" on them. Because associations can adopt rules, boards can regulate how security cameras are used, restrict the number and placement of cameras, or prohibit them altogether. In condominium associaitons, boards can regulate the attachment of cameras to common area railings, ceilings and walls. Boards can also adopt rules that require cameras blend into the structure and be unobtrusive. The rules can also prohibit the pointing of cameras toward other residents' windows and balconies.
Access to Recordings. security camera recordings qualify as "records" and board members have a right to review them. (Corp. Code § 8334.) Their status as records makes them discoverable in litigation, the same as other digital data such as documents, sound recordings, photographs, emails, etc.
Owner Access. The right to review is not the same for homeowners. Video surveillance recordings are not included in the list of records authorized by the Davis-Stirling Act for members to review. Even so, boards can make them available if they so choose.
Full Access. Smaller associations sometimes stream their security feeds and give all owners a password so they can log in from their computers or phones and monitor the cameras in real time. It gives extra sets of eyes on the common areas.
Limited Access. Most associations will provide only limited access to members. There are times when a member would have a legitimate reason to review a particular recording. For example, an owner's car is vandalized and she wants to view footage that would show who caused the damage.
Records Storage. Digital images are generally stored for 30 days and then automatically erased to provide room for more images. The storage time is sometimes set for shorter periods (2-weeks, 10-days, 48 hours) depending on the amount of memory available and the number of camera feeds.
Privacy Concerns. In California, associations can lawfully install video surveillance cameras in the common areas provided they are not viewing areas where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as restrooms, locker rooms, or the interior of an owner’s unit. (Penal Code § 647(j).)
Recommendation: Boards should adopt guidelines for how security camera data are stored, for what period of time, under what circumstances recordings may be viewed, and by whom. Boards should consult legal counsel when security issues arise. In addition, they should send an annual notice to the membership reminding residents to take common sense precautions to protect their own safety and security.
ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.