Have you noticed more security cameras in your condo or co-op building, not only in entrances and exits, elevators, and lobbies, but also as part of the doorbells on residents’ hallways? Increasingly, unit owners or shareholders are installing cameras pointed right outside their apartment doors. As Guzov LLC founder Debra J. Guzov, Esq. explained in a New York Times “Ask Real Estate” column, she has seen the issue come up more frequently, forcing condo and co-op boards to draft policies to address it. How buildings move forward depends somewhat on the sentiment of the residents, and how willing a board is to take the sentiment of its community into consideration. While some New Yorkers appreciate what they see as an added layer of security, others bristle at the loss of privacy and wonder whether any privacy laws apply to their situation.
Check the Building’s Rules and Policies First
The Condominium and Cooperative lawyers at Guzov LLC are frequently brought in by Boards or individuals to address the issue of surveillance cameras as it relates to privacy as well as protection, safety and security. New York City does not have a law prohibiting residents from installing doorbell cameras in apartment building hallways. But the rules of a co-op may prohibit a shareholder from placing a video doorbell in a common area. If no policy exists, the co-op board can draft one that takes the concerns of residents into consideration. In the “Ask Real Estate” column, Ms. Guzov explained that some co-ops add restrictions about how a camera is angled, or whether anything can be recorded, and if so, how long the material can be stored.
How is Privacy Addressed in New York Law?
Under New York Law, there is no common law right to privacy. New York does have two relevant privacy laws that offer protection, but they address issues and scenarios that likely go beyond the typical hallway or doorbell camera in a condo or co-op. These laws are:
- Sections 50 and 51 of the New York Civil Rights Law only provide a cause of action to an individual whose name, portrait, picture, or voice is used for trade or advertising without that individual’s written consent.
- Article 250 of New York’s Penal Law imposes criminal penalties for “offenses against the right to privacy,” through eavesdropping, wiretapping, tampering with private communications, and unlawful surveillance, which is further defined as filming someone in a place where that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Returning to the hallway or doorbell camera issue, the questions range from what is a common area to what are the rules about owner-installed devices. Certainly, within their own home, an individual absolutely has a reasonable expectation of privacy, but in the setting of multi-unit buildings such as condos and co-ops, that reasonable expectation does not extend to shared or common areas such as the lobby, stairwells, elevators and hallways.
What to Do if Owner-Installed Devices Cause Concerns About Your Privacy
Your individual right to privacy, and your reasonable expectation of privacy can come into play if, for example, you believe a neighbor has installed cameras that show activity beyond the hallway directly in front of their apartment, and that those cameras may also record audio. Contact your board, and verify whether the board initially approved the installation. From there you can either hire a private investigator yourself or request your building’s board do so, to issue reports detailing the cameras’ viewpoints and determine whether audio is being recorded. If audio is being recorded, then your neighbor has violated the Federal Wiretap Act, which prohibits the intentional interception of any “wire, oral or electronic communication” in addition to Article 250 of New York’s Penal Law. Finally, just as the board can provide authorization, so can they take it away and prohibit an action that was previously permissible.
If you would like to discuss how owner-installed devices may impact you or your building’s board, please contact us to schedule a consultation.
This blog was published on August 15, 2023.