As technology has evolved and home security/camera systems have become more affordable and accessible, many associations have grappled with the question of cameras (both association and owner) and whether cameras should be installed: (1) on common areas to “protect” the association and to help control theft and vandalism in the community; or (2) on individual units.  While the installation of cameras certainly provides a benefit to both owners and an association, there are risks involved with such installation of which an association and owner should be aware.

If an Association Installs a Camera System in the Community is it Assuming an Obligation to Protect the Physical Safety of an Owner?

The installation of association cameras throughout a community could provide an owner with a false sense of physical safety and security.  An owner may assume that the cameras are live monitored and that any incident captured on video will alert the police or a security company to provide assistance.  This is not usually the case.  Association cameras are not typically live monitored and are installed to assist with vandalism claims, covenant violations, contractor monitoring, and theft.  In order to eliminate any perception of safety or live monitoring by an owner, an association should adopt a camera policy prior to installation of community cameras clarifying the purposes of the cameras.

Adoption of a Camera Policy.

An association camera policy should specifically delineate the purpose of the cameras (monitoring of common areas, not physical safety of the owners) and outline concerns such as: (1) the amount of time footage will be retained; (2) who has the right to access footage and when; (3) the deletion policy for footage; (4) how the footage is handled in the event of a criminal act or covenant violation; and (5) confirmation that the cameras are not live monitored.  The policy should also advise owners that the existence of association cameras does not guarantee that non-residents will not gain access to the community and that such non-residents and/or residents will not commit criminal acts in the community.

Signs and Location of Cameras.

As outlined above, association security cameras are not typically live monitored and, therefore, do not provide physical security for an owner or resident.  However, not every owner or resident will be aware of the association camera policy and/or read the policy.  Therefore, in addition to an association camera policy, it is also recommended that an association post signs near the cameras indicating the purpose of the cameras. Signs should indicate that the cameras are for recording purposes only and should not be relied upon for personal safety.

Finally, an association should carefully consider the location of cameras in the community.  Individual owners or residents in the community do not have a right to privacy when on association common areas (not including locker rooms or restrooms).  However, there is a right to privacy in a personal residence.  Therefore, an association should take care when installing cameras to make sure such cameras view only association common area and do not invade the privacy of an individual owner in their residence or common area location wherein an expectation of privacy exists, i.e. locker rooms or restrooms.

Owner Cameras.

In addition to association cameras, individual owners may be interested in the installation of personal security cameras.  Generally, it is good practice to approve a request for a personal security camera.  However, there are certainly some things to consider such as whether the owner resides in a single-family home, a townhome, or a condominium. If the owner resides in a single-family home the association should review the request based on the architectural standards in the association’s governing documents.  As long as the requested installation meets the architectural guidelines it should be approved. If the owner resides in a townhome the analysis is slightly more complicated.  In addition to meeting architectural guidelines the association should confirm whether it or the owner has the maintenance obligations for the locations on which the cameras will be installed. If the requested location is an association-maintained area the association may consider a maintenance and indemnification agreement to protect the association from potential physical damage due to the camera installation. If the owner resides in a condominium the camera will likely be installed on association common areas.  The association should consider the architectural concerns with this, potential damage concerns when allowing cameras to be installed on common areas, and should require the execution of a maintenance and indemnification agreement to protect the association from damage.

Given the easy access to technology and both an association and individual owners desire for safety and security, cameras are here to stay.  Therefore, an association should consider the above steps before diving into the world of cameras.

If you have questions or your board would like to discuss association or owner cameras, please contact one of our attorneys at 303.432.9999 or at [email protected].

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