While associations are not generally liable for the criminal acts of third parties, they have a duty similar to that of a landlord to take reasonable precautions to protect residents from foreseeable crime within the community. In some cases, prior instances of crime or other factors that make it reasonably foreseeable that future criminal acts might occur can result in liability unless the association takes reasonable precautions to prevent such crime. Unfortunately, some of the actions commonly taken to prevent crime also have the potential to create liability for an association. One of these actions that might create liability if handled improperly is the installation and use of surveillance cameras.
Location is important. To avoid claims of invasion of privacy, an association should only use cameras in portions of the common area where residents have no reasonable expectation of privacy (e.g., not in restrooms or areas commonly used for changing). Further, no cameras should be positioned in a manner that captures any portion of an owner’s fenced in yard or the interior of a home. Signage should be clearly posted in all areas under surveillance so persons in that area are aware of the presence of cameras.
A clear and comprehensive policy for the use of the cameras should be adopted – preferably before the installation of the cameras to prevent claims of improper use and to minimize potential liability. Surveillance camera policies should include information on how long data is kept, and who, when and under what conditions the video will be reviewed. If the cameras are to be used as part of a monitored closed circuit TV system, clear notice should be given that the cameras are under periodic but not constant monitoring.
If video taken from the cameras will be monitored by management personnel or board members, it is prudent to inlcude in the surveillance camera policy strict parameters for when footage will be reviewed. This can help guard against claims that a board member or manager is using the system to harass or spy on neighbors, or for some other improper purpose.
Sometimes the use of surveillance camers will not be enough to deter crime. To help minimize the risk of liability should crime still occur, an association should provide periodic written notices to the residents and owners of the community, warning them that the surveillance cameras do not and cannot guarantee their personal safety and reminding them that they are responsible for their own safety and the protection of their property. If ths notice is not provided, some owners and other residents may misconstrue the presence of cameras as a guarantee of safety or assume the association is responsible for their safety and security.
Finally, it is important to know that if an incident occurs, the association may have an obligation to preserve and release the video to law enforcement or other third parties. Additionally, in certain circumstances, an association may be drawn into criminal or civil proceedings if an incident has occured which was or may have been captured on the association’s surveillance cameras.
This article provides a brief overview on some of the issues involved with surveillance cameras. For more information on this matter or assistance preparing a surveillance camera policy that is appropriate for your association, please contact your association’s legal counsel.