What Massachusetts Tenants and Landlords Need to Know Before Installing DIY Security Cameras

The Promise and Pitfalls of a New Technology

With more and more people abandoning cable companies for Internet-based TV, ditching car ownership for app-based rentals, and forgoing hotels for strangers’ spare bedrooms, it comes as little surprise that many are choosing DIY home security options. But can tenants expect legal surprises if they install a doorbell camera?

In this article, we will discuss if tenants can install cameras, limits on where cameras can be placed within an apartment building, and the distinction between audio and visual recordings under Massachusetts law.

Can Tenants Install Doorbell Cameras in Massachusetts?

In a word, yes. Tenants generally can install cameras within their apartment and on their front door, provided that they do not damage the landlord’s property or violate others’ privacy.

The reality is less simple.

Public Use and Privacy Expectations

Much legal ink has been spilled over surveillance and the reasonable expectation of privacy. While a tenant may have a strong legal basis in claiming the right to nondestructively install a doorbell camera, that tenant could expect significant pushback from the landlord and other tenants.

While a shared hallway is a public or semi-public space that, in the eyes of the law, has a lower expectation of privacy than someone’s residence, other tenants could argue that observing their doors, or their comings and goings, violates their right to privacy. For condo residents, things become more complicated, because even shared-use areas might be claimed as held in joint ownership by neighbors unhappy with the installation of a camera.

It is a good idea to consult a lawyer before installing a security camera.

It is also good to plan for a diplomatic way of asking—or informing—other stakeholders of your forthcoming home improvement.

The Perils of Audio Recording

While installing and using a video camera has significant legal gray areas, audio recording is a cut-and-dry “NO.” In Massachusetts, audio recording without the consent of all parties involved violates an anti-wiretapping statute with serious teeth.

Even passively running your home security system can be an area of major legal exposure if it records audio as well as video. Simply putting the camera in plain sight, such as on your front door, is not enough to inform passers-by that their conversations are being recorded.

If you cannot record visuals without sound with your home security system, you can be sure you should not install it on the exterior of your Massachusetts apartment.

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