LIVE VIDEO SURVEILLANCE – Is it Legal in an HOA?

Here is the question that triggered this email:

“My HOA board of directors installed video surveillance cameras in the underground garages and  exterior entrances due to recent burglaries from vehicles and petty thefts. Can HOA members receive access to LIVE surveillance video camera feeds, to their home computers for security, before entering the underground garages?”

An HOA board is generally authorized by the governing documents to choose measures that are in the best interests of the collective membership, and taking steps to minimize theft or burglaries or any crimes would be within that authority. This sort of action raises several questions though and anticipating those, below you will find some guidance on this.

A board may arrange to have video surveillance equipment installed in the common area so long as it “surveils” the common area only and not private areas within homes or enclosed exclusive use common areas. There is not an expectation of privacy in the open common areas. Owners should act accordingly if they want to avoid being embarrassed by what turns up on camera. And I know of few boards that would want this kind of time commitment and responsibility. Some will place cameras to record but refrain from reviewing them unless there is an incident that warrants police review.

The question of whether board members can receive LIVE feeds seems a no brainer as to whether they have the authority to do this. Unless there is some specific reason to deny a board member access to all association records, the directors generally have rights, and if the board appoints directors to watch the live feeds, I don’t see an issue. The board could even hire a security company to do so. However, it would be a lot of work and commitment, and would be quite costly.  So cost could become an issue given that there are limits on assessment increases in the law. What the persons reviewing the videos are doing with the information could also be a problem. Misrepresenting what the Board intends would be wrong.  Using any of the information captured for improper purposes could cause problems.

There may also be some issues that arise as to the amount of “reliance” that is created, or what legal liability arises if the board installs surveillance equipment. If a board gives owners the impression that it is offering “protection” of persons or property, in other words doing anything other than “monitoring the areas in an attempt to discourage theft”, it could be creating expectations that will bite back if there is a crime and someone is hurt or property is damaged.

It is important for boards to know that they can innocently trigger liability that renders the HOA liable for criminal acts that the HOA would not otherwise be responsible for.