Q: We have a serious situation in our Midtown East condo building. Our board president has installed cameras above the doorman’s desk and in the passenger and commercial elevators. We suspect the cameras monitor conversations, as well as everyone’s comings and goings. But the doormen can’t see the video; only the board president and our superintendent can. The doormen go outside so they can talk to one another without fear that their conversations are being recorded. Can the board president spy on everyone like this?
A: Cameras that capture images in common areas of residential buildings for security purposes are lawful — though recording conversations, as you describe, is not.
First, determine if the cameras were legitimately installed.
The board president cannot do this unilaterally. A condo board can only take actions that are authorized in its condominium declaration, and in its bylaws. You can check the building’s offering plan to find these documents and see if the board president was authorized to purchase, install and monitor the cameras, said Andrew Lieb, a real estate lawyer.
“A house rule that is unauthorized by these foundational documents is unenforceable,” Mr. Lieb said, “and if the cameras were only installed by such a rule, without more, you have a great case to get them taken down.”
The motive behind the camera installation is important, Mr. Lieb said. If the board president acted with a bad motive — say, to spy on a rival — you can sue for breach of fiduciary duty because the president is a fiduciary to the condominium and must act in good faith, with fair dealing to unit owners. If the cameras were installed in accordance with the bylaws and in good faith for the protection of the building and unit owners, it will be difficult to contest.
When it comes to recording conversations, as you suspect is happening, state law comes into the picture. New York is a one-party consent state, meaning that one party must consent to the recording of a conversation. Violation of this law is a Class E felony.
You and your fellow owners should read the corporate documents to determine how to call a meeting and get some answers, said real estate lawyer Adam Leitman Bailey. “I recommend that the owner seek to call a special meeting using legal counsel, and if not an option, without counsel, and try to undo this arrangement on privacy and safety concerns,” he said.
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