One of my favorite (and most challenging) parts of practicing real estate law in Massachusetts is the opportunity to address new legal questions. There is no shortage of topics in real estate law, and I enjoy the chance to learn something new every day in my work.
The legality of video surveillance for rental property is a question I’ve gotten from several landlords.
There is no doubt that video surveillance is not allowed in a tenant’s individual apartment. It is also clear that video surveillance can never record audio, as Massachusetts requires two-party consent for any audio recording. But, what about video surveillance of common areas in rental property, such as an entranceway?
Invasion of Privacy
Massachusetts, unlike many other states, explicitly guarantees a right to privacy. The law, G.L. c. 214, § 1B, provides the following:
A person shall have a right against unreasonable, substantial or serious interference with his privacy. The superior court shall have jurisdiction in equity to enforce such right and in connection therewith to award damages.
This is a broad protection, and allows enforcement through court action. This law is particularly relevant to any possible surveillance of rental property.
Surveillance of Rental Property: Is It Allowed?
From my reading of this law, and how courts have interpreted it, I believe that surveillance of tenants is generally not allowed by landlords, even for common areas of rental property. Even though common areas may be visible to the public, courts have generally extended privacy protections to those areas associated with one’s residence, and not simply the residence itself.
This, of course, is only my take on the law, and there may be exceptions and limited circumstances that justify such surveillance. In general, however, I would advise landlords to avoid all surveillance of rental property.
I note that this analysis is written in regards to residential rental property. Commercial rental property has fewer protections for tenants, and the surveillance of commercial property is a different topic that would require more consideration.
My opinion on this topic has changed since I first considered this issue. Initially, I felt that video surveillance of rental common areas was fine, so long as it included no audio recording or surveillance of a tenant’s individual apartment. Upon further review, however, my opinion on this matter has changed: proof that, in law, there are always differences in opinion!
I do think that surveillance may be allowed in some limited cases, and with a tenant’s express permission. For example, if there are legitimate safety concerns, and video surveillance could help protect the tenants, surveillance may be alright. However, absent such limited exceptions, I would advise Massachusetts landlords to proceed with extreme caution in such matters.
If you need assistance with a landlord-tenant matter, contact me for a consultation.