New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
Q: A shareholder in a small co-op recently installed a video doorbell. A neighbor across the hall fears she's being watched, possibly even listened to. Does the co-op board have the power to ban video doorbells?
A: New York City does not have a law prohibiting residents from installing doorbell cameras in apartment building hallways, replies the Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times. But your co-op has rules, and a shareholder cannot simply place a video doorbell in a common area.
“If you’re living in a co-op, you can’t just unilaterally do what you’d like to do in the common hallways,” says Debra Guzov, a Manhattan lawyer who represents co-op and condo boards. “It’s done with the permission of the board.”
Doorbell cameras have become ubiquitous in suburban homes, capturing video of Amazon deliveries, the porch pirates who snatch them and anyone else who happens to cross the camera’s path. The devices have been slower to catch on in city apartments, but that is changing as New Yorkers warm to the technology.
Over the past two years, Guzov says she has seen the issue come up more frequently, forcing condo and co-op boards to draft policies to address it. How buildings move forward depends somewhat on the sentiment of the residents, and how willing a board is to take the sentiment of its community into consideration. While some New Yorkers appreciate what they see as an added layer of security, others bristle at the loss of privacy.
“It creeps a lot of us out,” says Heidi Boghosian, a lawyer and the author of I Have Nothing to Hide, a book about surveillance and privacy. “We as New Yorkers, we don’t want our neighbors recording our comings and goings 24-7,” adds Boghosian, who is a member of her Manhattan co-op board and would like to see her own board consider such a policy.
Call your managing agent and find out if the building has a rule about doorbell cameras and whether the camera complies with it. Depending on what you learn, the co-op board may need to be made aware of your neighbor’s bell. If no policy exists, now is probably the time for the co-op board to draft one, taking the concerns of residents into consideration. Guzov says some co-ops add restrictions about how a camera is angled, or whether anything can be recorded, and if so, how long the material can be stored.
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