Many landlords are looking for innovative ways to protect their properties, especially when they don’t live nearby. Video surveillance systems are an obvious choice, but what is their legal status?
The short answer is they’re fine. You may install surveillance cameras on your Katy, Texas rental property as long as they are for security purposes and not to track your tenants’ personal lives.
Naturally there are nuances with regard to how, when, and where you may install video surveillance cameras on a rental property.
Texas is a one-party consent state
First, it’s critical to understand Texas wiretapping laws. The laws are specific to recording audio, but courts have applied them to video as well.
In a one-party consent state, you may not record an audio conversation that you aren’t involved in unless the conversation takes place in a locale where no one would have an expectation of privacy.
Based on Texas wiretapping laws, outdoor video surveillance cameras can legally record audio in the state. There’s no expectation of privacy outside the home, and this principle has been upheld by many judges.
However, in spaces where there is an expectation of privacy, you must obtain prior consent from at least one party to record a conversation. If you’re involved in the communication, you don’t need anyone else’s permission.
However, if you’re not present, you’ll be required to have the express permission of at least one participant.
Consult with an attorney and follow Texas law to the letter
Illegal use of surveillance cameras could be regarded as harassment, so be cautious if you decide to install cameras to monitor your properties.
Most outdoor video security systems are legal in Texas
Although you don’t have to get permission from a tenant before you install an outdoor security system, it’s preferable to talk to your tenant first so they don’t conclude you’re up to no good. You should show them the angles at which the cameras are aimed, so they know you’re not pointing them into the bedroom or bathroom windows. This should give them peace of mind.
If you secure strong rapport and trust from your tenant, installing outdoor surveillance cameras shouldn’t pose a problem. When your intentions are decent, and you only seek to protect your property, most tenants will find that reasonable.
However, the use of surveillance cameras inside your properties could be illegal.
When are surveillance cameras illegal?
You can use cameras for security purposes, but you must not use them to monitor your tenants’ behavior–aka, spy on them. For example, this Redditor posted about a landlord who called the tenants at 2 a.m. to tell them to turn off the lights in the main area of their home.
There were two problems with this. First, the landlord didn’t live in the house, so video surveillance inside it was against the law.
When the landlord doesn’t live in the property being monitored, he or she cannot surveil the interior of the home. To do so is a violation of the tenant’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
Second, calling the tenant at 2 a.m. based on video footage would be considered a breach of the tenants’ right to quiet enjoyment of their home.
Expectation of privacy determines surveillance legality
When a landlord lives with the tenant, there would be no expectation of privacy in common areas such as the living room or kitchen. However, when those areas are not shared with the landlord, the tenant has an expectation of privacy throughout the entire residence.
Common areas aren’t always common areas
In an apartment building, common areas like the laundry room, hallways, and shared entryways may be monitored legally with video cameras. However, common areas inside a home are a different matter.
You may have heard that common areas like kitchens and living rooms could be surveilled legally. That’s only true when you live with your tenant. Landlords may only justify recording inside a home when they live inside the structure with the tenant, in a housemate situation.
When your tenant is also your housemate, though, it’s never legal to surveil the following areas:
- Closets inside bedrooms
- Changing rooms
- Any area designated for private use by your tenant, such as a spare room used as an office
- Separate buildings used for therapies that require privacy for undressing, such as an infrared sauna
However, you may surveil the following areas, provided they are shared spaces:
- The front porch
- The back porch
- The hot tub or pool
- An outdoor gazebo
- Side yards
- Outbuildings like sheds and pump houses
- The garage
Tenants have an expectation of privacy when renting a house
When tenants lease a house from a landlord who lives elsewhere, their expectation of privacy extends throughout the entire residence. When a tenant rents an entire home, there are no “common areas.”
The concept of a common area applies only when the landlord shares the area with the tenant. If you don’t live with your tenant, under Texas wiretapping laws you’d have to get their permission to use surveillance cameras inside the house – even if the cameras only capture video.
Similarly, if you rent your property to four different tenants, you must obtain permission to record inside the home from at least one of them. In any case, if you feel the need to install security cameras in your tenant’s kitchen or living room, you should probably start looking for new tenants.
Video surveillance can be a slippery slope in Texas
Be careful about installing a video surveillance system without informing your tenant first. Don’t give them any reason to believe you’re abusing your authority as a landlord.
You aren’t required to ask permission, but it’s considerate to provide an advance heads-up before installing a video surveillance system. Remain anchored in your objective as a landlord to keep the peace with your tenants.
Before installing a video security system to monitor your Katy rental property, it’s best to contact an attorney to make sure you do everything by the book. The penalties for violating Texas wiretapping laws include jail time. Don’t risk making a mistake that could cost you dearly.
Better yet, hire Green Residential as your property management company. Our professional property managers know Texas laws inside and out.
As part of our property management services, we can install a legal surveillance system that will keep your properties secure. Contact us today for a free rental property analysis and learn more about the services we provide.