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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

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ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Video Doorbells: Shareholders Skirmish Over Surveillance

Under watch. A family in a pricey Upper West Side co-op was distraught. The neighbor directly across the small foyer had installed a video doorbell that recorded video and audio every time someone entered the foyer. The camera was trained at the family’s door, meaning the comings and goings of guests were recorded, as were the goings-on inside the apartment whenever the door was open.

 

At a standoff. The camera was installed, unannounced, on top of the doorbell in the foyer wall, which is a common area and therefore under the control of the co-op board. Theresa Racht, the attorney who represented the family, advised her client to circulate a petition among like-minded shareholders asking the board to establish a policy banning video doorbells.

 

Prying eye. The situation is a clear case of one person’s desire for security clashing with another person’s desire for privacy. “Whatever audio and video is being picked up is sent to an electronic device of the camera owner’s,” Racht says. “It’s saved in the cloud, and it’s hackable.”

 

Peter Massa, a partner at the law firm Armstrong Teasdale who has dealt with similar conflicts at co-ops and condos he represents, adds: “These devices were created for single-family homes. Most people object to having them in a multi-family building because you’re monitoring people. And if it’s a doorman building, most people feel there are already enough security measures.”

 

Approval required. Massa advises boards not to allow the devices unless the applicant gets permission from everyone on the floor. Racht says boards in non-doorman buildings could consider allowing them, but only if everyone on the floor agrees. Inaction is not an option. “Boards need to figure out what’s right for their building,” Racht says, “and then they need to take a stand.”

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