Is CCTV required at your strata property? How can they be used without intruding on residents’ privacy?
CCTV surveillance methods can drastically increase your property’s security, but improper use can also create a host of privacy issues that can be very difficult to sort out.
If a body corporate or individual lot owner wishes to install CCTV on the premises this can raise several questions surrounding what is being recorded and privacy issues. There are a variety of complex laws for CCTV and additional moral factors that may come into play too.
What these cameras can legally record, who retains the footage and who has a right to view the footage are all important issues for bodies corporate that already have or are considering installing security cameras.
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.
Why your strata property may need CCTV cameras
CCTV cameras can be 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:
- The property has experienced recent break-ins
- There has been an increase in crime in your neighbourhood
- There have been disputes involving threatening behaviour
- Your strata property does not have an adequate security system or by-laws and building rules
- Occurrences where non-owners or residents using your strata property’s facilities or amenities without permission.
Laws in Queensland
As private home surveillance is a relatively new, there isn’t many specific laws covering this issue. Instead, CCTV cameras are generally governed by several federal and state laws.
Furthermore, QLD body corporate legislation does not specifically provide for issues relating to CCTV surveillance in a strata scheme.
However, if a body corporate or individual lot owner sets up CCTV surveillance on common property, it has a legislative obligation to do so reasonably and in compliance with legislative requirements.
Legal advice may be required before installation of security cameras, however, here are some facts to consider;
In Queensland, it is not illegal for someone to video you or your home, unless:
• they trespass on your land to do so
• they are videoing your private body parts or activities;
• they are recording a private conversation without your permission; or
• it amounts to stalking or domestic violence
Understanding legislation around CCTV surveillance in strata properties can be quite complicated, which is why we recommend obtaining legal advice.
In general, a body corporate can vote to have CCTV cameras installed on common property as long as they do not infringe on the privacy of owners and residents.
If your body corporate is looking into install cameras to monitor common property, this is most likely a legal practice as long as the cameras are installed in compliance with laws governing surveillance.
According to the Queensland Criminal Code, it is illegal to record people in places that are considered private (like bedrooms, bathrooms, balconies and private living spaces) without consent.
Therefore, it is vital to ensure that CCTV cameras only capture footage of common areas within the body corporate property.
Restrictions on CCTV Recordings
Recording private conversations:
In Queensland, a person is not permitted to record private conversations that they are not involved in.
If CCTV surveillance is likely to capture private conversations, the audio part of the recording system should be disabled. If possible, surveillance equipment should be positioned to avoid the conversation being lip readable.
Recording private body parts and activities:
If someone is in a private place or doing a private act in circumstances where they would reasonably expect privacy (like going to the bathroom), it is a criminal offence to film them without their consent.
Private acts may include things like undressing, using the toilet, showering, bathing, or being intimate in a place where a person would reasonably expect privacy.
When positioning CCTV cameras for surveillance purposes, the person positioning the cameras should consider the primary purpose of the surveillance. Security is the primary purpose of most surveillance, so cameras should be installed to maximise:
• coverage of the main entrances and exits to the area under surveillance;
• any special ‘target’ areas (e.g. walls that are often vandalised, or rooms containing valuables); and
• the opportunity to identify any offenders (e.g. to easily see their facial features, height, or vehicle registration).
Cameras should not be placed to maximise opportunities to ‘spy on’ residents or their guests, but should be positioned for legitimate, reasonable, purposes only. Furthermore, 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.
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
- 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.
2. 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 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.
3. 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.
If an individual lot owner requests to install CCTV cameras to service their lot exclusively, they will need to apply for a by-law and have it passed by the body corporate, as the camera will likely need to be installed on common property. They may also be required to bear the expenses for the entire process and take responsibility for maintenance and repairs.
Some schemes will also have specific by-laws concerning the installation of surveillance equipment.
If a lot owner installs CCTV without permission from the body corporate, they will usually be required to remove the device at there own expense. This is why we always recommend obtaining explicit body corporate consent before installing CCTV cameras that service an individual lot.
It is important for lot owners to recognize potential difficulties in adhering to privacy laws and other legislation and must take great care when it comes to the installation of surveillance devices.
Where CCTV cameras do not belong
Your strata property’s CCTV cameras should be placed in locations that do not cause privacy concerns. No one wants people watching their every move as they go about their daily life.
It is recommended to:
- Avoid pointing cameras at bathrooms and windows
- Place cameras away from private windows, balconies and courtyards
- Be extra cautious about where you direct cameras in areas such as pools, gyms and children’s play areas
- Have the body corporate vote on CCTV camera locations to ensure the majority is comfortable with where they will be installed.
CCTV surveillance must not cause a nuisance
Lot owners have a responsibility to ensure that if they are allowed to install CCTV equipment on their property, it does not interfere with another lot owner’s use and enjoyment of their lot or common property.
If you believe cameras have been installed without approval or are causing a nuisance, you can make a complaint to the Body Corporate manager.
Disputing CCTV Equipment
If an owner or occupier in a scheme can demonstrate that a body corporate’s decision to install a camera in a place, or facing a particular location, is unreasonable, they may be able to dispute it.
Before doing so, it is a legislated requirement for the owner or occupier to make reasonable efforts to resolve the issue themselves with the body corporate before lodging an application with the Office of the Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management.
Accessing CCTV Footage
While Body Corporate legislation does not specifically make mention of video footage, adjudicators have held that the body corporate’s records include information stored or recorded on a computer such as CCTV footage.
An owner can access body corporate CCTV footage within seven days of making a written request and payment of the prescribed fee. Often the request to see CCTV footage is made following an accident or a confrontation, but no reason needs to be given with the request.
There is no need for a committee member to supervise the viewing. However, the committee should make sure the CCTV footage cannot be deleted by the viewer and should permanently retain a copy of the relevant CCTV footage so that there is no later argument about what was seen.
If there is a genuine concern about the request for the viewing, then legal advice should be sought.
Whilst there have been no court cases to-date in Australia, there is general agreement among legal professionals that creating a false sense of security would be considered “contributory negligence” were a situation to arise.
This means an individual or entity could hold a scheme partly responsible for damages they have suffered. There is also general agreement that criminals know how to identify fake cameras.
It is very important that bodies corporate also consider the costs associated with the operation and maintenance of CCTV equipment as well as the cost of storing the resulting records.
Steps your committee should take before installing CCTV cameras
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 general rule, all owners should be able to access the footage if required. If your property has a building manager, your 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 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 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. 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.
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 committee can work together to select the physical cameras, choose an installation provider and have the devices installed.
The information contained in this article is general information only and not legal advice. Independent legal advice should be sought before you take any action or otherwise rely upon its contents in any way.