BY BOB GOURLEY – CONDO/HOA COMMUNICATION CORNER
When it comes to the use of video surveillance systems within the walls of community associations, there is no small amount of controversy. In a world connected by cell phone video, wearable cameras like Google Glass and inexpensive camera surveillance systems, it was only a matter of time before community association governing bodies had to consider the advantages and drawbacks of using video surveillance within the common areas of their associations.
Video surveillance has proven to be an effective crime deterrent and may be useful for that purpose alone. While video surveillance may not always tell the full story of what has taken place within an association, it certainly gives law enforcement and community governance folks a video record to review when they need to take corrective measures to enforce laws or rules. Video surveillance allows boards to review video evidence to support all types of complaints; even the more commonly reported infractions like parking and not picking up after pets. Does video surveillance go too far in invading the privacy rights of individual members of the community? That’s just one of the questions that needs to be answered. Another is whether or not video surveillance records are part of the association records and, as such, must be made available to any association member requesting them.
A related area of concern for community association dwellers is individual unit owners who choose to install video surveillance units to monitor their own unit and its surrounds. Will the association allow cameras to be posted outside the unit facing the unit owner’s entrance or parking area? How about mounting a camera on a building facing outward or at another owner’s unit altogether? It can be a fine line between security and voyeurism and those against the practice have argued that the cameras facing their units are a violation of their privacy. Many boards simply disallow external cameras as they change the face of the property and can be disallowed under architectural conformity guidelines. It is a tricky issue to say the least.
Community association security professionals have their own spin on video surveillance. Obviously, video surveillance is a part of a total security solution but they do not recommend it as a stand-alone solution. They are also quick to point out that using an outside firm is the best practice for the association so as not to create a potential conflict between board members and residents. Board members have no reason to review security footage unless there has been a problem reported. An outside security consulting firm has no vested interest in watching who comes and goes within an association unless they are looking for particular video evidence to support the apprehension of someone who has committed improper acts within the community. Residents don’t need to feel that the board is acting as Big Brother, watching their every move.
One final consideration for associations thinking of using video surveillance is state and local law. For the most part, states and municipalities are silent on the use of video surveillance. However, using security cameras in areas where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy (changing rooms at the clubhouse or swimming pool) are to be avoided at all costs. It would be wise to speak with a local expert familiar with local regulations, if any, before installing any video surveillance equipment.
Bob Gourley is founder of MyEZCondo, a communications firm that produces newsletter and website content material for condominiums and homeowner associations throughout the USA. He also serves as board president of his local HOA.