To camera or not to camera, that is the question. While not necessarily worthy of Shakespeare, it gets the point across. Is it better to install monitoring cameras and understand what is happening in the community or to turn a blind eye, but also assume no liability or a duty to prevent the acts of others?

With the popularity of AirBnB, HomeAway, and VRBO, which places a vast number of unknown people in communities, the apparent free-for-all at the community dumpsters, along with the general decline in the cost of camera systems, associations are beginning to investigate the usefulness of camera monitoring systems. However, prior to investing in a camera system, associations should explore and answer the following questions.

What is the purpose of the cameras?

You may note the very conspicuous absence of the word “security” from the statement above. Clearly, this is by design. By definition, camera systems, unless actively monitored, are passive in nature. They do not provide security, but rather only provide passive deterrence of an act before it happens. After the occurrence, the cameras merely provide a view of what happened. It is the after-the-fact view that may allow the Association to charge any additional costs incurred by the Association to responsible parties.

Cameras alone will not provide “security”. In multiple reports from both the UK and the US, cameras have limited effectiveness of reducing property crimes.  However, there are a number of other studies in which police departments have reported a significant drop in crime to both person and property after the installation of camera systems.  Depending upon which side of the story you accept, what cannot be argued is the camera systems are passive in nature. Boards need to be very clear as to the purpose of the camera; is it an attempt to deter damage or charge those after the fact? Once this point is clear, the association may design a system to maximize those perceived benefits to the community.

Of course, along with monitoring cameras, the association will have monitoring camera images. The association should consider who may be allowed to see the footage and under what circumstances. The Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act does not identify monitoring camera images as a “record of the association”. This can become an issue when an owner-to-owner dispute arises and the association is confronted with owners demanding the footage to “catch their neighbor”. A well-written policy addressing who may see the footage is critical to avoiding document disputes down the road. The policy should also address where images are stored, how often the memory is overridden, and under what circumstances the images may be viewed and by whom.

When making a decision to install a monitoring camera system, the association needs to balance the cost of the system against its intended purpose and the perceived privacy rights of owners. However, by working through these issues, the association will be able to best design a comprehensive program to protect owners and the community and we can finally answer the question of “to camera or not to camera” with an intelligent answer.

Please do not hesitate to contact an attorney at Altitude Community Law at 303.432.9999 with any questions about installation, or consideration, of cameras in your community.

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