Rules and Guidelines to Inside/Outside Surveillance: Rules and Regulations
The first thing you need to do when determining the dos and don'ts of installing surveillance in a rental property is to double check your local laws. This article can give you some insights into the general conditions and allowable placement of cameras and other surveillance devices in and around your property as they apply within the United States.
Privacy and the rights of tenants may vary state to state, but there are some agreed upon conditions that waive some of the restrictions. You are allowed to place security cameras in exterior areas to protect your property and its occupants. And in many states, you can place cameras inside your property if you notify your tenants they are there.
“Having visible surveillance cameras (not spy or hidden cameras) monitoring driveway, front door, backyard, garage, living room, hallways, lobbies, vestibules, stairwells and any other areas used for ingress and egress where access is relatively uncontrolled is not an act of flouting law, which is plausible and feasible measures to prevent break-ins, burglaries and suspicious activities”. REOLink
While this may allow certain cameras, the use of hidden cameras and cameras in private areas like bathrooms and bedrooms are strictly prohibited.
Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Utah explicitly state filming people in private areas is law breaking without signed consent. But, as a property owner you must realize this would seriously impact bookings.
Remember securing your property is allowed and security cameras in plain sight are allowed too, not only monitor what your renters are doing – such as more guests than allowed, acts of vandalism or trashing of your property – but stopping maids and cleaning staff from stealing (or even not doing their work), or keeping an eye on pool or lawn maintenance people to ensure they are not leaving with any of your external property.
Apart from the potential loss of income and property, the invasion of privacy issues seems to be a popular topic in the vacation rental forums.
Landlords have been arrested for invading the privacy of their tenants. A number of movies about snooping on people have been made, and serious fines and jail time are a possibility.
“Since there are no federal laws that specifically address video surveillance, it’s up to each state to figure out how to handle the situation. To date, 16 have enacted laws restricting video surveillance. In Hawaii, video surveillance is legal only with the consent of the person being watched. In Alabama, Minnesota, and Florida, it’s okay to watch whomever you want as long as the person isn’t in a private place -- which by law, is a place where one could reasonably expect privacy. Arkansas, on the other hand, allows private place surveillance if the subject gives consent, while Georgia permits surveillance in both public and private places – but the cameras can’t be hidden in either. Utah has a similar law, but the hidden camera restriction applies only to private places. Delaware, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire and South Dakota require consent for any type of hidden camera surveillance, while Utah, Michigan and Tennessee call for consent only for hidden cameras in private places. And finally, California’s law states it’s illegal to make a video recording of “confidential communications” without consent.”
The recording of conversations may get you in trouble and so can filming in some places within your property, so you need to check your specific state and local laws.
Instead of recording conversations, you can monitor noise levels with tools such as NoiseAlert that registers the decibel levels of sound inside your property. This will let you know if your tenants are throwing parties, while allowed exterior cameras can show how many people are coming and going through the front door.
You need to be aware of the potential for backfire if you install cameras especially in areas that can be considered non-public. Placement of cameras outside your building is permitted, and a noise level monitor is allowed. Anything else you need to check your regional laws but know that interior cameras may not be worth the potential problems if a case sets precedent.
Checking your laws and proceeding with caution are good frames of reference.