Video Doorbells - A Blessing and a Curse

While video doorbells seem to be ‘all the rage’ lately, they bring about quite a few concerns related to privacy, especially in common interest communities. The balance is between one’s right to the latest technology securing their home for package deliveries, for example, with the reality of a camera and audio recorder capturing additional footage of one’s neighbors. It is important to review the governing documents in place in your community to determine if the installation of such devices are a violation, missing from the governing documents entirely, or a regulated addition.  

Many people utilize doorbell cameras to capture video recordings of what goes on within a certain radius from their door, however they forget that most all of them are capturing audio too. This presents situations in which the seemingly harmless video doorbell encroaches in on one’s personal expectation of privacy in and around their home. The Board of Directors for many Associations are left with the question of how to regulate them or whether they can ban them outright from existing within the communities.

Many Associations have decided to regulate video doorbells and cameras, either via their declaration of restrictive covenants, or via their rules and regulations. Some communities have banned them completely; others have regulated them by limiting the areas in which the cameras can direct their footage, or limiting their permissions to video only. Boards have to weigh the benefits as supported by homeowners wanting the doorbell cameras for security reasons, with those that feel as if they are an invasion of privacy. At the end of the day, Boards are tasked with the responsibility of enforcing the governing documents, and in doing so, they should be mindful of the intersection between safety and privacy.

For example, if the cameras were installed inside one’s unit and did not capture any audio or video outside of the unit, the Board generally would not have the authority to prohibit that. However if the camera’s viewpoint is directed out of one’s window towards a neighbor’s window or back patio area, then the Board would likely have authority to regulate that practice. Likewise, if the camera is installed on the exterior of one’s unit, then installing a video doorbell without approval may be a violation of the Association’s governing documents. 

As we all know, the common area and common elements within a community are generally shared spaces with all homeowners. Therefore, there is usually no expectation of privacy within the common area and common elements of a community association. For example, in a community where the outer doors face the sidewalks, one could not argue that it was an invasion of privacy for a doorbell camera to capture one walking along the sidewalk. However, some homeowners may argue that if the recording parameters extend further to their neighbor’s front door, then it might be invading one’s privacy to capture all of the visitors going in and out of the home. Therefore, Associations should consider creating rules regarding the video doorbells such as: (i) limit viewing parameters to areas immediately adjacent to the front door, porch, or parking spot, (ii) not direct the cameras to face other residents’ units, (iii) not direct the cameras to capture one in a state of undress, (iv) not allow audio recordings of someone without their consent, and (v) not republish the video footage on the internet or with the purpose of using it to bully, intimidate, or harass. 

We recommend the following principles to Boards to consider when evaluating the use of video doorbells in their communities:

  • Installation on Common Areas and Common Elements shall not be permitted. 

  • Residents should be aware that most activities conducted in the Common Areas and Common Elements are open to view and hearing by third parties, as all owners and residents usually have access to the Common Areas and Common Elements. Certain Common Areas and Common Elements, however, do carry an expectation of privacy, including restroom areas and locker rooms around a community pool.

  • Any camera contained entirely within the interior of a Unit, may be installed without any approval by the Association, provided that it complies with all other restrictions as to the range of video that it captures.

  • The decision on permitting the installation of any security camera or video doorbell on the exterior of Units shall be in the sole discretion of the Board. 

  • Any breach of the requirements herein is subject to compliance review by the Association. Such remedies may include, without limitation, the requirement that the camera be removed, the imposition of charges pursuant to the Property Owners’ Association Act or the Condominium Act, and any aggrieved Unit Owner’s own remedies available to them. 

Technology is only moving forward and it is likely that many homeowners will push for the inclusion of video doorbells into their communities. The best advice for Boards is to evaluate both sides of the argument, garner the thoughts and opinions of your unit owners, and prepare rules and regulations to guide their use. 

Courtney H. Cox is an attorney at the law firm of Gordon & Rees, where she focuses a sizeable portion of her practice on community association law. She practices out of the firm’s Williamsburg office. Gordon & Rees is a national law firm with over 1,000 attorneys in offices in all 50 states.

Share this post:

Comments on "Video Doorbells - A Blessing and a Curse"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment