You own a rental property, and you worry about illegal activity. Maybe there have been some breaking and entering incidents in the area. You don’t want it to happen at your property. Both to deter thieves and to make sure you have evidence if it does happen, you decide to put up security cameras.
Can you do that? Someone else lives there. Would having cameras on the property be an invasion of their privacy? You may own the property, but they still have a right to privacy while legally living in your building.
Typically, yes, you can put up exterior cameras and security devices. A camera near the front door that looks out at the street, such as a doorbell camera, can give you the security and peace of mind you’re after. The tenant does not have any reason to expect privacy at the front door, while still visible from the street, so it’s not a problem.
If you own an apartment building with multiple units, you may also be able to put up cameras in the common areas. For instance, maybe there are exterior stairways or even interior hallways with doors going off into various apartments. Again, these are not places that people think of as private, and they are areas where illegal activity may begin, so cameras are not a problem.
No inside cameras
That said, be very careful that you never put up any cameras inside the building itself. This has happened in long-term rentals and short-term rentals in New York and led to lawsuits and arrests. You cannot do it. It is a violation of the tenant’s privacy. They have a reasonable expectation of privacy within the space they have rented, just as they would in a home they owned, and you cannot violate that.
While this may seem obvious, mistakes happen. Maybe you’re worried about someone breaking in through a window, not the door, so you position a camera in the main living area, facing at the window. You don’t mean to record anything other than a break-in, but you still cannot do it. That is the tenant’s area to use as they see fit and they should have privacy in all parts of the home — not just bedrooms and bathrooms.
Camera use, even when you follow the law, can lead to disputes. Maybe a tenant complains that they don’t like the doorbell camera keeping tabs on when they come and go. Maybe they complain that an exterior camera can see in through a window. When these issues arise, with so much at stake and when dealing with such a sensitive topic, you need to know what legal options you have.