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Is it legal to put security cameras in common areas?

You can generally put security cameras in most common areas, just like any other business. A common area is an area that is open to the public or tenants in a multifamily property, such as the entrance doors, lobby, hallways, parking lot, or recreation areas. However, you generally cannot install cameras in an area where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as inside a restroom in a common area or the changing room for a gym.

In many places, you may be legally required to make sure people know they are being filmed. Two ways to do this are mounting the cameras where they are clearly visible and posting clear signs at the entryway and around the property.

If you are a landlord for a large building, tenants may expect or appreciate the presence of security cameras. If you have a small building or single-family home, some tenants may feel like the cameras protect them, while others may feel like the cameras are monitoring them.

Besides restrictions for cameras, further restrictions apply to audio recording. At a minimum, you may need a conspicuously posted sign that says you are recording audio as well as video. In many states, wiretapping and privacy laws apply to audio recordings and violations can lead to fines and penalties. You may need the express consent of one or both parties to any conversation you record, and you do not count as a party if you are not personally involved in the conversation.

Who can monitor security cameras placed in common areas?

Strict rules about who can monitor security cameras are not the norm. However, it can be a good idea to limit access to managers or security personnel and to make sure these employees have passed a background check. This can reduce concerns about cameras being used inappropriately, such as by a staff member stalking a tenant. It is good practice to routinely change the password, particularly after personnel changes or a tenant that was provided access moves out.

Is it safe to use smart technology to control locks?

There are some concerns with smart locks, such as whether they have enough safeguards to prevent hacking or be usable if they lose power. Also, different types of locks may or may not be as secure as a traditional deadbolt lock. It all depends on the specific smart lock being used.

An important concern with smart locks is that they may need to meet the fire code. Some smart locks are designed to fail in the locked position to prevent burglaries during power outages, but these need to open from the inside to let people escape during a fire.

Should I let tenants install smart tech security, such as locks or cameras?

As a landlord, you can set rules in the Lease Agreement for tenant improvements. Most landlords do not want tenants changing their own locks.

If you do allow a tenant to install a smart lock, you should verify it complies with the fire code, and may want to require that it can be opened with a key and request a copy of a physical key. This way, you can enter the unit in emergencies without worrying about the tenants limiting your access.

Letting tenants install cameras can be more complicated since wiring and mounting them requires physical changes to the home. An interior camera, or one inside their unit, is likely no problem. In a multifamily dwelling, however, other tenants may have privacy concerns for exterior cameras. It’s often best to let tenants install smart security features only in single-family homes, where you may want the cameras to remain in place after they leave. 

If a tenant asks about exterior cameras or smart locks, landlords may want to consider paying for the upgrade to ensure a quality device is installed and that they will be able to comply with the law (such as the fire code, or by not recording audio in states, like California, where doing so is prohibited).

Is it legal to use smart thermostats for remote temperature control?

If you include utilities in the rent, or have a multi-family building with a central HVAC system, you may want to control the thermostat to conserve energy. Although this is legal in many states, some states may specifically require the temperature to stay within a specific range. Additionally, often, when a landlord controls the thermostat, it leads to tenants using space heaters and portable or window air conditioners, which can drive up electric costs and have the opposite effect by increasing energy usage.

Controlling tenant thermostats with a smart thermostat may not be a good business practice since tenants usually expect to do it themselves. However, in certain situations, it may be necessary and having the ability to control the thermostat remotely could be beneficial. If you want to be able to control the thermostat, it's a good idea to learn the law in your area, make the rules part of your Lease Agreement, and to make sure tenants understand why it is necessary.

Are digital signatures enforceable on Lease Agreements?

If you are looking into smart technology for your units, you may also want to use other smart tech, like digital signatures, for the business side of renting. Rocket Lawyer not only lets you create customized Lease Agreements that can be reviewed by an attorney, Rocket Sign® can get leases and other documents signed quickly, securely, and legally. Digital signatures are just as valid and enforceable as handwritten signatures and much easier to get. Using the Rocket Lawyer Mobile App., anyone can digitally sign a document on their smartphone, anywhere and on any device.

To learn more about the rules for smart tech in your area, get help with a problem tenant, or get insights about updating your lease, ask a lawyer.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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