Spring break is approaching, and your community’s common areas (i.e., pool/clubhouse area) could be subject to “rowdy” crowds that may cause danger and damage to these areas as well as the owners and occupants themselves. It is common for condominiums, co-ops, and homeowners associations to look for ways to promote the safety of the owners and occupants of the community, and the protect association property and amenities, by installing security cameras in the common areas. Before doing so, however, the association’s Board of Directors should be mindful of (1) its ability to install these cameras without membership approval, and (2) any potential liability that may result in the placement of cameras.
Arbitration decisions for condominiums have generally found the installation of security cameras to be a material alteration and thus generally subject to membership approval, dependent upon the language found in the association’s declaration of condominium. For more information on the definition of a material alteration, see our blog post entitled (http://jacksonlawgroup.com/blog/condominium-and-homeowner-association-law/condominium-associations-painting-of-building-may-require-membership-approval/). A condominium association may be able to prove that the cameras were essential for protection of the common areas, however, no such arbitration decision has yet specifically allowed this as a way in which to avoid the unit owner approval requirement.
In the HOA context, while there is no statutory provision governing material alterations, the provisions of the declaration should be thoroughly reviewed before moving forward with installation.
Ultimately, the Board should consider the following questions before installing security cameras or otherwise taking steps to protect the common areas:
- What are the privacy concerns? A cause of action may exist if cameras are found to have violated an expectation of privacy.
- Can the association be held liable for accidents and injuries that occur on the property where cameras are negligently installed or maintained? If so, what are the proper steps to avoid potential liability?
- Is there a difference in liability between recorded versus live-monitored surveillance?
- Is the obligation/liability different if an association wished to record both audio and video surveillance? Audio surveillance is subject to statutory restriction and generally requires dual consent in order to be considered legal.
Each association is subject to its own set of unique facts and circumstances, however, a Board of Directors should be careful nonetheless before installing security cameras or taking alternative steps in attempting to secure the common areas. The association is advised to discuss with its manager and legal counsel the proposed steps it wishes to take before installing security cameras so as to avoid liability in the form of challenges from members and others affected by the installation.