Should our HOA install surveillance cameras?
Q: We have had several recent incidents of vandalism in our otherwise quiet and well-maintained subdivision. It has a single entrance, and our board is considering the installation of surveillance cameras to capture the image of vehicles coming and going from the neighborhood, particularly those vehicles that enter the community late at night. What are the legal ramifications that our board should consider before using electronic surveillance at the entrance of our neighborhood? A: It is generally permissible for your homeowners association (HOA) to install surveillance cameras anywhere on HOA-owned common property except in places where residents would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as the clubhouse locker rooms. The cameras serve two purposes. If they are openly visible to people entering your community, they will serve as a deterrent to criminal activity. They will also provide evidence to law enforcement for catching and convicting the vandals and other criminals. There is no law that requires HOAs to post signs advising residents and visitors that the property is under surveillance, but doing so may enhance the deterrent effect. The board should communicate to the residents that the cameras are solely for deterrence and evidence-gathering, and that the cameras have not been installed to provide any guarantee of protection, safety or security. Some HOAs have considered or installed “dummy” cameras that don’t actually record anything. While inoperable cameras may provide some deterrent to criminal activity, they would not supply any evidence if a crime is committed. Further, dummy cameras can instill a false sense of security in residents. The other question is, who is entitled to view the recorded footage? Can a suspicious spouse require the HOA to provide footage to check on the comings and goings of her husband’s suspected mistress? What about a parent checking on his teenager’s travels? Video footage from the surveillance cameras would likely be covered by state laws governing HOA members’ right of access to corporate records, and security-camera footage is not listed in the statutes as one of the records that members are legally entitled to inspect. Therefore, boards would be wise to limit the distribution of footage to law-enforcement personnel investigating a crime, and to others who can either produce a subpoena or articulate a compelling and legitimate reason for needing it.