The use of surveillance cameras by landlords may be legal. It also may constitute tenant harassment. Whether surveillance cameras are permissible depends on many factors, including location and use.
Tenants have a right to privacy in their home. Landlords cannot use cameras to track a tenant’s personal life. Pointing cameras at a tenant's private space can be a breach of a tenant’s quiet enjoyment or tenant harassment. Landlords have a duty to provide tenants with a safe environment. Thus, landlords can justify placing cameras in common areas. Common areas include hallways, laundry rooms, and shared entryways. This is different from cameras aimed at a tenant's front door, windows or, of course, inside a tenant's unit.
Common areas in residential hotels and boarding houses are a bit different. Tenants in those places still have a right to privacy inside their own rooms and bathrooms. But, living rooms, kitchens, and hallways are common areas and thus may be subject to surveillance.
As discussed, landlords can justify putting cameras in common areas in the name of safety. Yet, a landlord's use of surveillance cameras can still constitute harassment. Examples of harassment may include using cameras to question a tenant about their guests, lifestyle or dating life. Another consideration is why the landlord installed cameras in the first place. Were they installed in response to reports of break ins? Or in retaliation for a tenant's complaints about defective conditions? Are the cameras only aimed at one unit or are they used in the same manner throughout the building?
Tenants dealing with harassment should document the problem. One way for tenants to do this is to write their landlord to request the cameras removal. While a landlord may not change their behavior, writing a letter - or letters - can be very useful. Writing letters creates a record that the issue exists, the tenant has notified the landlord of the problem, and that the behavior is harmful. Letters are also helpful if a tenant ever needs to bring a case against a landlord for harassment. For more information on communicating with landlords take a look at our blog post on the topic.
Keep in mind that refusing to remove cameras may be within the landlord’s rights. But tenant harassment is always against the law. If you are being harassed or if you aren't sure whether the landlord's use of cameras crosses a line, talk to a tenant attorney about your options.
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