CCTV cameras on your strata property: added security or breach of privacy?

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CCTV cameras on your strata property: added security or breach of privacy?

We explore why you may need CCTV cameras on your strata property and explain how they can be used without invading residents’ privacy

Let’s face the facts — in this day and age, there is no getting away from CCTV surveillance. Though CCTV cameras can sometimes have a murky reputation due to incorrect uses, this surveillance method can drastically increase any property’s security factor.

But can you actually install CCTV cameras on your strata property? This is a question you may find yourself asking if your strata committee or owners corporation is considering installing CCTV cameras on your strata property. While the simple answer is yes, there are many complex laws governing the issue and many moral factors that may come into play too.

In this article, we explore how CCTV cameras on your strata property can increase security without breaching owners and residents’ privacy and the steps that should be taken before installing it on your strata property.

By laws

Have you been wondering about the legal and moral ramifications of CCTV cameras on your strata property? Here is what you need to consider before voting for or against the installation of CCTV cameras on your strata property:

  1. Why your strata property may need CCTV cameras
  2. The laws governing CCTV cameras on your strata property
  3. What to do when a lot owner wants to install CCTV cameras
  4. The best common property locations for CCTV cameras
  5. Where CCTV cameras do not belong
  6. Steps strata committees should take before installing CCTV cameras
 

1. Why your strata property may need CCTV cameras

If you’ve recently noticed CCTV cameras on your strata property or learned your strata committee or owners corporation is considering installing them, they are likely necessary for safety or security reasons.

CCTV cameras are an excellent public safety tool when used and managed correctly. While the prospect of having CCTV cameras on your property may feel like an invasion of privacy, they may be necessary for the following reasons:

  • If your property has experienced recent break-ins
  • If there has been an increase in crime in your neighbourhood
  • If there have been disputes involving threatening behaviour
  • If your strata property does not have an adequate security system or by-laws and building rules
  • If there have been instances of non-owners or residents using your strata property’s facilities or amenities without permission.
 

2. The laws that govern CCTV cameras on your strata property

Because home surveillance is a relatively new phenomenon, there aren’t many specific laws covering this area. Instead, CCTV cameras are generally governed by several federal and state laws.

Interpreting the laws around CCTV surveillance in strata properties can be quite tricky, which is why we recommend obtaining legal advice. As a general rule of thumb, however, owners corporations can vote to have CCTV cameras installed on common property as long as they do not infringe on the privacy of owners and residents.

Importantly, if your strata property employs an onsite building or facilities manager, the Privacy Act 1988 may come into play.

Each state also has different laws that may apply to CCTV surveillance in strata properties, though they lay out very similar rules.

New South Wales

The Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (NSW) governs the use of surveillance devices like CCTV cameras in New South Wales. While the law does forbid the recording of private conversation, it doesn’t appear to restrict the use of “optical surveillance devices” as long as there is consent from those who will be recorded.

While strata laws in New South Wales do not cover security cameras specifically, it’s wise to pass a by-law regulating the device’s installation, maintenance, parameters and intended purpose before CCTV cameras are installed on common property.

Queensland

If your body corporate is looking into install cameras to monitor common property, you can rest assured that this is most likely a legal practice in Queensland, as long as the camera is installed in compliance with laws governing surveillance.

According to the Queensland Criminal Code, it’s illegal to record people in places that are considered private (like bedrooms, bathrooms, balconies and private living spaces) without consent. Therefore, it’s important to make sure the CCTV camera only captures footage of common areas within the body corporate property.

Victoria

The Surveillance Devices Act 1999 (Vic) governs the use of CCTV cameras in Victoria. As there are no owners corporation-specific laws on this topic, this piece of legislation will affect you the most of your owners corporation committee if planning on installing CCTV cameras to the common areas of an owners corporation property. It can be interpreted to clarify that only activities occurring outside a building or occurring in a place that residents can reasonably expect to be observed by others can be filmed by CCTV cameras.

We recommend approaching a strata lawyer such as Kemps Petersons Legal for advice before installing CCTC cameras on your strata property, to ensure your plans are compliant with relevant state and federal legislation.

Related question from our StrataFAQ community

StrataFAQ Profile picture - Female 1

Q: One of our residents is concerned about CCTV cameras and filming children in the pool. Is it really an issue?

A: Where there are CCTV cameras in place, it’s important there’s clear signage saying so. Because CCTV involves legal aspects of privacy, there are many laws to conform to… Read more at StrataFAQ.

 

3. What to do when a lot owner wants to install CCTV cameras

On occasion, an individual lot owner may request to install CCTV cameras to service their lot exclusively, whether it be to protect themselves from a break-in or increase surveillance due to a dispute. If this is the case, they will need to apply for a by-law and have it passed by the owners corporation, as the camera will likely need to be installed on common property. They may need to bear the expenses for the entire process and take responsibility for maintenance and repairs.

In recent years, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) has twice ruled against lot owners who installed CCTV cameras on common property without owners corporation permission, resulting in the lot owners having to remove the cameras at their own expense. In this light, we always recommend obtaining explicit owners corporation consent before installing CCTV cameras that service an individual lot.

 

4. The best common property locations for CCTV cameras

CCTV cameras on your strata property must be installed in locations that do not infringe on the privacy of owners and residents. Here are some of the best common property locations for CCTV cameras:

Entryway icon

The entrance to a building or property

This will allow the entry and exit of visitors and unwanted parties to be documented. It’s wise to have the camera point out to the entrance rather than point into the entry hallway, to respect the privacy of owners and resident.

Entryway icon

The parking lot

It isn’t uncommon to have CCTV cameras installed in parking lots, especially if a strata property experiences parking disputes. If your strata committee or owners corporation chooses this location, it may be best to point the cameras at the entrance to the car park, identified problem areas or visitors parking spots.

Outdoor areas icon

Outdoor entertainment areas

It’s important to place cameras in a way that does not negatively impact the privacy of those who use the amenities. Pointing the cameras to the entrance will assist with tracking who uses the areas without infringing on privacy.

Pool icon

The entrance to the property’s pool, gym or similar amenities

Ensuring the privacy of owners and residents who use these amenities is crucial. CCTV cameras placed in these locations should be placed to record who enters the areas without recording inside the amenities. Rules should also be put in place about supervision for minors who use these amenities.

Information PICA Group tip icon

PICA Group tip
Don’t forget to have signage displayed prominently to keep owners, residents and visitors aware that CCTV cameras are in use in your chosen areas.

 

5. Where CCTV cameras do not belong

Your strata property’s CCTV cameras should not be placed in locations that may cause privacy concerns. After all, no one wants Big Brother watching their every move as they go about their daily life at home.

We recommend:

  • Avoiding pointing cameras at bathrooms and windows
  • Placing CCTV cameras away from private windows, balconies and courtyards
  • Being extra cautious about where you direct cameras in areas such as pools, gyms and children’s play areas
  • Having the owners corporation vote on CCTV camera locations to ensure the majority is comfortable with where they will be installed.
 

6. Steps strata committees should take before installing CCTV cameras

A strata committee should take the following steps, and invite all lot owners to be involved in the process to make sure they are comfortable with installing the CCTV cameras and what they will be recording.

Importantly, lot owners have the right to object to CCTV cameras’ installation and can vote against them if they wish. However, the decision of the majority will likely dictate whether the cameras can be installed.

Laws across the country prohibit the installation of CCTV cameras that affect privacy, so you should speak up if you feel the planned CCTV cameras may infringe on your privacy.

 

Step 1: Consider where the CCTV cameras will be placed. Determine the optimal locations, and consider where the cameras will point to.

Step 2: Determine who will have access to the footage, and where the footage will be stored securely. As a rule of thumb, all owners should be able to access the footage if required. If your property has a building manager, your strata committee may be able to hand the responsibility of reviewing and storing the footage over to them.

Step 3: Agree on a process for obtaining access to the footage when required. The strata committee or your building manager may be able to help create this process and determine the best way forward.

Step 4: Draft and pass a by-law or building rule covering the installation of the security cameras, their maintenance, and the footage retrieval process. Make sure this by-law is drafted by a strata law specialist like Kemps Petersons Legal so that it is watertight and leaves no room for misinterpretation. Lot owners should be given plenty of time to consider the proposed by-law, clarify queries and understand the process before taking the by-law to the floor for a vote. Also, consider including rules for installing personal CCTV cameras on common property.

Step 5: Install signage advising of the CCTV cameras. This step is crucial. To be compliant with privacy laws and mitigate the risk of legal ramifications, there must be adequate signage that states the CCTV cameras are in operation.

Step 6: Engage a professional service provider to install the cameras. Your strata committee can work together to select the physical cameras, choose an installation provider and have the devices installed.


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