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Who's allowed to watch my building's security camera footage?

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Q. My co-op building has security cameras in the lobby. I understand that they're a safety measure, but I'm wary of the board president or my neighbors being able to watch my comings and goings. Who typically has access to the footage? Could they watch it any time or just when there's been an incident?

A. “This is the co-op version of the NSA debate: security versus privacy,” says real estate attorney Dean Roberts of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus. While technically a board member could review security footage from a public area at any point, that’s not usually how it works, our experts say.

“Typically security cameras that are set up in cooperative and condominium buildings are viewed by the superintendent or resident manager and by other management team and board members if an incident has occurred,” says real estate attorney Jeffrey Reich of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz.  ​

But lobbies aren't living rooms: you can expect the same kind of privacy as you would in any public space. Boards are allowed to place cameras in any common area, so long as they can’t “see” into private apartments, experts say. 

“There is a fairly clear privacy line at the apartment's front door,” Roberts says. 

To address privacy concerns and to protect board members, Roberts advises limiting access to the security company and necessary employees of building management—or designated members of a board security committee if necessary—and writing down a protocol for who can view the tapes and when. This is especially important because the footage could wind up as evidence in a legal proceeding. 

“Most boards understand the reason for this and agree with it,” Roberts says. “As part of that policy, video information is not released [to] any outside party absent either a clear legal right or a court subpoena.”

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