Security Cameras in Community Associations

Much of the case law involving an association’s duty to provide security relies on long standing landlord-tenant laws and cases.  In general, an association has a duty to provide safety and security against foreseeable risks.  There are many cases involving security cameras and community associations.  In one case the court held that an association had a duty to install cameras because of frequent and repeated car break-ins and other criminal behavior in the common area parking lot. Keep in mind that placing security cameras on common property may very well impose or create a duty on the association that may not otherwise exist.  Of course, cameras don’t prevent crimes, they merely record crimes.  But the understanding of the average person assumes that cameras provide some form of actual security.

If the association is aware of repeated criminal acts on common property, it may make sense for the board to install security cameras.  But, there should be actual knowledge—and thus foreseeability—of future acts which a security camera may curtail.

What about signs that say there is surveillance, but there are no actual cameras? The major concern is that owners or guests at the community will see those signs and have a false expectation of safety or security.  In the event a crime occurs on the property, the Association may be exposed to liability if the victim asserts: “I thought there were cameras and video footage may have prevented the incident or allowed the assailant to be identified.”  Generally, it is not prudent to use signage suggesting there are cameras when there are not.

Before making a decision to install security cameras or other security measures, talk with a qualified attorney.

Mapping Community Associations and Crime

How should condominium and homeowners associations handle crime in or around association property?  Proactively and carefully.  Certain steps can be taken by the board, such as improved lighting, upgraded locks, or in some cases, onsite security. Some associations have organized community crime-watch programs.  Be careful though--activities by such groups may not be covered by the association's insurance policy.  Many local law enforcement agencies will help associations and the members learn how to prevent crime, how to report suspicious activities, and steps that can be taken to make your community more safe.

The map below is a small section of Portland, Oregon, showing community associations (building icons) with reported crimes during 2013.