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When Co-ops Act Like Big Brother

Upper East Side, Manhattan

Co-op Privacy
June 6, 2018

Privacy is so 20th century. With the proliferation of security cameras, data breaches, Wikileaks, Facebook dole-outs and thousands of other invasions, privacy in the computer age has become as quaint as the rotary phone. But do co-ops need to act like Big Brother just because everybody else is? 

At an Upper East Side co-op, the doorman takes pictures of all visitors, asks them for identification, and stores their personal information in a database. This system was the super’s idea, and he has access to the files. A shareholder asks: Is it legal to take pictures of guests and log their information on a database? 

“There is nothing inherently illegal with requiring someone to register and have his or her photo taken,” attorney Lisa Smith, a partner at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, tells the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times.

In some ways, a co-op is similar to an office building. Visitors come through, and management wants to know who they are. Visit an office building and there’s a good chance the person at the security desk will ask for identification, type the information into a computer, then hastily photograph you with a webcam. Off you go to the elevator banks with that grainy head shot affixed to a name tag that makes you look like a Neanderthal and lets everyone know you don’t belong. 

The policy may be intended to add another layer of security, but a co-op is also home to human beings, and most people don’t like having their guests treated like the cattle in the lobby of the Graybar Building. Where do you draw the line with such a policy? 

Jacob Sirotkin, a vice president of Century Management, answers the question with a question: “Who is considered a guest? The delivery guy? A 9-year-old girl? At some point, you should trust a resident giving permission to a guest that the guest is the person the resident says he or she is.”

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