Residential Security Cameras Laws Explained – Is Your Setup Legal?

residential security camera laws
residential security camera laws

Security cameras are a great deterrent to criminal activity, but is your system’s setup legal?

For many home owners, video surveillance is an integral facet of their security systems. This home security offers deterrence against would-be burglars, irresponsible or abusive babysitters, nannies and caretakers. With the video components, residents and law enforcement can obtain evidence of criminal activities. Those suspicious of infidelity by spouses might seek proof to confirm their concerns.

Thanks to smartphones, tablets, computers and wireless technology, security system consumers can monitor their homes from work, the restaurant, an outing at the park or in their vehicles.

Yet, the decision whether, where and how to mount home security cameras implicate certain legal issues. If you’re considering home video surveillance, you must consider the privacy interests of those in your home and neighbors, rules for developments and ensuring that what you capture can be used in court.

Privacy Laws Regarding Your Neighbor’s Property

As a starting point, a person has no legal entitlement to expect privacy when in clear view of members of the public. Thus, if your camera captures the neighbor’s front yard, you normally won’t face trouble since that area is in plain view.

home security camera installation rules

Before you install security cameras around your home, be sure to understand the applicable rules, regulations and privacy laws.

However, directing the camera lens inside the neighbor’s home presents a different story. The law normally treats the inside of a home as inviolate. As a result, your neighbors and their guests possess a reasonable expectation of privacy inside that home. Monitoring what happens in another’s home exposes you to criminal prosecution. These types of statutes typically make it a crime to use video cameras and other devices to record or observe a person without their consent and where the person is not in plain view of the public.

Also, your neighbor may sue you in civil court, that is hold you liable for money damages. In California, you’re deemed a trespasser if you employ the home security camera to obtain or record images of family, personal or private activity if you couldn’t view it without physically entering the premises.

As to backyards, it depends on the extent to which the neighbor has blocked public view. Your security camera should avoid backyards surrounded by fences, bushes or trees of sufficient height, material and density to obstruct a passerby’s sight from ground level. The same applies to fenced portions of the backyard, such as an enclosed above-ground pool area.

Security Cameras Inside Your Own Home

You have more leeway on where to fix security cameras when it comes to your own home.

However, you don’t have an unlimited privilege or right to monitor everything inside the home. Your guests or those working at your home have reasonable expectations of privacy in certain places. Obviously, the bathroom qualifies. Further, if you offer a guest a particular room for changing clothes, running the security camera in that area could violate the guest’s expectations created by you.

Normally, trespassers (those who enter your land without your permission) have no reasonable expectation that their actions, wherever they occur, will go without view by others. Thus, the in-home camera can keep track of your bathrooms and bedrooms, as well as other places in the home.

Recording Conversations

legal home security cameras

It is important to understand the laws around residential security systems. Check with your local state, county, and HOA to ensure proper compliance.

Aside from where and what the homeowner can video, there’s the question of the audio if the system includes the ability to record sound and speech. Federal and state wiretap statutes restrict your ability to monitor and record conversations, even in your own home.

Generally, it is illegal to record a conversation without the permission of at least one participant. In some states, if you are one of the participants in the conversation, your obvious consent to recording yourself is enough and the act of recording does not violate wiretapping laws. In several states, all parties to the conversation must consent. These states would require a nanny, baby sitter, contractor or other guest to give permission to have the conversation or audio recorded.

Check With Your Homeowners’ Association

Residents of condominiums or residential subdivisions should consult their owners’ association rules or restrictive covenants. Rules may allow residents or owners to point cameras at common areas, such as swimming pools or tennis courts, because these areas do not carry a reasonable expectation of property. To avoid their own risks of liability, owners’ associations prohibit directing cameras toward other homes or units.

Final Thoughts: Catching the Criminals

Your home security camera setup matters also in identifying perpetrators for police and courts. Consider placing your cameras at the front and back entrances to the home, as these are principal entry points for criminals. Remember, you want to be sure that the home security cameras can identify perpetrators and bring them to justice.

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