Can Landlords Install Surveillance Cameras at Their Properties?

Landlords put a lot of time and energy into their rentals, from finding tenants to keeping the property maintained. As the core of your business, it’s important to make sure your rental stays safe. One of the easiest ways to see what’s going on at your property at all times is to use surveillance cameras—but is that legal? The simple answer is yes, property owners do have the right to install cameras at their rental properties, but as you’ll see, the legalities can be a bit complex. Please note that the following is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

Where Can Surveillance Cameras Be Installed?

Although landlords can install surveillance cameras, their tenants’ right to privacy must still be respected. Cameras can only be set up in common areas where there’s no expectation of privacy, such as:

  • Carports or parking lots
  • Stairwells or shared hallways
  • Garage doors
  • Shared patios
  • Recreational areas, like pools or picnic areas

Security cameras that are installed anywhere outside the property are generally allowed, as long as they’re not pointing at any windows. Cameras can also be installed outside of a front or back door, but if the camera angle allows a full view of the inside of the residence when the door opens, it violates the tenant’s right to privacy.

Surveillance cameras cannot be installed anywhere inside a tenant’s residence or any shared areas where a certain amount of privacy might be expected, like outdoor community bathrooms, changing rooms near the pool, or laundry rooms. In addition, all cameras must be visible and out in the open—not hidden. Legally, you can’t record tenants without their knowledge, so all tenants must be informed that there are cameras onsite and consent to being recorded.

Legal Considerations

Keep in mind these are just general ground rules. Many state and local governments have additional laws regarding the use of security cameras, so make sure you have a good understanding of what’s permitted on your property before you have cameras installed. If you fail to follow the laws surrounding camera usage, you could face legal trouble, serious fines, or even jail time. Some state and local governments will have specific forms that will need to be filled out to show tenants have been properly informed and have provided consent to be recorded.

Cameras with audio are a bit more complicated than cameras that only record video because they must comply with state audio recording laws and federal wiretapping laws. These laws are stricter than video recording laws, so if you’re considering cameras with audio, it’s best to consult with a lawyer and to work with a local installation company that knows the laws. Audio-capable cameras that can pick up sounds from tenants while they’re inside their unit are also illegal.

Massachusetts, for example, has a “two-party consent” law that requires the consent of both parties to record a conversation legally—otherwise, you could be convicted of wiretapping. If you have cameras that record audio and video, it’s crucial to let the people being recorded know that they’re being recorded, or the audio should be turned off.

How Can the Surveillance Footage Be Used?

All images, video, and audio that’s captured on a surveillance camera can only be used for safety monitoring—not for spying on tenants. Footage cannot be used to monitor what tenants are doing, whether they’re breaking the lease, or any other personal details. Using security footage to collect information about tenants and their personal lives is illegal and considered harassment. As long as you focus on using the cameras to ensure your tenants’ safety, you shouldn’t have any issues.

The Bottom Line

Can you put up surveillance cameras? Yes, but you need to pay close attention to your state and local laws and make sure that the positioning of the cameras doesn’t violate your tenants’ right to privacy. In addition, you’ll need to make sure all tenants are aware of the cameras and consent to being recorded. Cameras are legal for the purposes of keeping the property safe, not for spying on tenants. If you’re concerned about how tenants might treat your property, make sure you’re using tenant screening and verification to help you avoid tenants whose rental history includes lease violations, disruptive behaviors, or property damage.

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