Barker Martin

Condo-HOA Blog

Security & Privacy Meet in the Hallway

Incorporating technology into our homes is big, big business in the Unites States.  Where once we were clapping at our lamps, now we can control virtually everything inside and outside of the home with the sound of our voice or apps on our phones.  As part of this growing trend, video doorbells have become immensely popular, and offer real-time video and audio streams, as well as cloud-based recording.  Companies like Ring, August, Nest, and Honeywell have a wide variety of devices with near limitless options.

But what happens when a condominium owner wants to install a video and audio recording device in a common hallway, where the video camera can see inside other units when doors are open?  In our experience, most associations do not have procedures specifically designed for video doorbells.  Especially when it comes to multifamily condominiums in Washington and Oregon, these devices can raise a host of practical and ethical issues that associations and their boards should carefully consider before they arise.

From a practical perspective, most condominium declarations empower the association with control over the exterior appearance of the building.  Meaning, the board gets to say what can and cannot be visible on the physical structure of the building.  While most of the time this means telling a particular unit to change the color of its blinds or remove furniture from its balcony, it also applies to devices such as video doorbells owners want to install near a unit entry.  Here, the key question for the board is whether the area where the owner proposes to install the device is part of the unit or part of the common elements.  Depending on the answer to this question, the board may be able to place conditions on installation, maintenance, and repair of the area.  You should carefully review your declaration to understand what is and is not part of a unit at your condominium, and we would be happy to assist your association with this analysis.

Beyond the practical concerns, the board can be placed in the unenviable position of weighing privacy concerns versus security concerns.  For example, video devices can deter package theft, vandalism, or help protect a particularly vulnerable resident.  Neighbors, on the other hand, have a very real privacy interest in preventing someone from taking video of the interior of their unit without their knowledge or permission.

There are no easy answers to these issues.  However, if the board is considering allowing owners to install video doorbells, setting clear standards ahead of time can be helpful.  For example, the board can require a screenshot of the installed camera to ensure no other units are within the line of sight of the camera.  The board can also require the audio recording function be disabled to avoid capturing conversations between passing neighbors.  Further, the board can require that when the device is removed, the owner is responsible to pay for repairs to the wall or doorframe.

Our firm has assisted multiple associations both analyze their governing documents for provisions that may apply to installing video doorbell devices, and work with the board to develop reasonable conditions when the board wants to let owners install the device.  While the practical and ethical issues are complex, doing some of the work before they arise can save your association time and money in the long run.  Let us know if we can assist your association with these or any other issues.