If you’re in the market for a new apartment, your rental checklist might look something like this:
- Make sure you’ll love your new neighborhood.
- Find out the lease length, terms, etc.
- Ask about the process for getting things repaired in your rental if they break.
- Figure out what you have to do to get your deposit back at the end of your lease term.
- Ask about the pet policy.
- Ask about the policy on converting one of the rooms into a giant ball pit. (I kid.)
Here’s one you might want to add to your list: asking about your landlord’s surveillance cameras. More often than not, these security devices are placed in common areas, such as mailrooms or apartment-building hallways, so management can keep an eye out for any riffraff. It’s not only legal, but it’s also probably more common than you’d think.
The good and the bad
“Every building is putting in cameras everywhere,” Larry Dolan, chief executive of American Security Systems told The New York Times earlier this year. “And the truth is, you want them. They are a deterrent. People see a camera, they are less likely to do something if they know they are being recorded.”
Stealing mail is illegal, after all, and not many of us are likely to go walking around naked in our communal mailrooms. But many landlords install cameras outside individual residences as well, just to keep an eye out. As a rule of thumb, these cameras should be used only when the residences are unoccupied and should always be disclosed to tenants before they sign a lease. As a tenant, knowing these cameras are keeping a lookout might even give you a sense of security.
What if you’re concerned about privacy in your personal space?
What might not give you the warm fuzzies: Sometimes cameras are discovered in private spaces too. In 2012, a Boston landlord was caught having placed a hidden camera in the bathroom of a duplex he had rented to three women. In 2013, a woman living in Manhattan sued her landlords for placing cameras in her apartment’s bedroom and bathroom.
So what can you do to make sure you’re not being spied on without your consent? Here are a few tips to keep in your back pocket before you sign that next rental agreement.
1. Ask your landlord(s) point-blank about the presence of cameras. Sure, it’s an awkward question, but a few seconds of uncomfortable silence are better than not knowing if there are surveillance cameras in your apartment. (Assuming your landlord is a truth teller, of course.) If you’re good at catching people in lies, this is an obvious first move.
2. Read your lease carefully. There could be small print somewhere in your lease that mentions security cameras, so don’t sign anything without reading thoroughly. If it’s superlong (as leases tend to be), request a digital copy so you can CTRL+F for stuff like “security” and “camera.” Better safe than recorded nude, as I always say.
3. Sweep the residence (with your eyes). There’s no reason not to do this, even if your lease says nothing about cameras. Look into every little nook and cranny — especially in places such as bathrooms, where the supercreepy are most likely to want to spy. If you find one? Call the cops immediately and don’t touch anything. You want any fingerprints on the equipment to be preserved.
4. Buy a hidden-camera detector. An easy way to find hidden recording devices in your residence is with a hidden-camera detector, a small, portable device that sweeps a room with a high-frequency red light to detect eavesdropping devices. Plus, this is your chance to be James Bond, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Have you ever asked a landlord about surveillance cameras? Share your experiences in the comments below!