Real Estate

Can My Neighbor Point a Video Doorbell at My Apartment Door?

Q: I live in a small co-op building with just a few apartments per floor. My neighbor recently set up a video doorbell. If it’s anything like the ones I have seen on suburban houses, it either shows live video constantly, or is motion triggered. In either scenario, I am being watched as I come and go from my apartment; perhaps even listened to. This is uncomfortable for me. Are these video doorbells allowed in New York City apartments? Does the board have the ability to ban them?

A: New York City does not have a law prohibiting residents from installing doorbell cameras in apartment building hallways. But your co-op has rules, and a shareholder cannot simply place a video doorbell in a common area.

“If you’re living in a co-op, you can’t just unilaterally do what you’d like to do in the common hallways,” said Debra J. Guzov, a Manhattan lawyer who represents co-op and condo boards. “It’s done with the permission of the board.”

Doorbell cameras have become ubiquitous in suburban homes, capturing video of Amazon deliveries, the porch pirates who snatch them and anyone else who happens to cross the camera’s path. The devices have been slower to catch on in city apartments, but that is changing as New Yorkers warm to the technology.

Over the past two years, Ms. Guzov said she has seen the issue come up more frequently, forcing condo and co-op boards to draft policies to address it. How buildings move forward depends somewhat on the sentiment of the residents, and how willing a board is to take the sentiment of its community into consideration. While some New Yorkers appreciate what they see as an added layer of security, others bristle at the loss of privacy.

“It creeps a lot of us out,” said Heidi Boghosian, a lawyer and the author of “I Have Nothing to Hide,” a book about surveillance and privacy.

Yes, a hallway is technically a public area, but it’s not as heavily trafficked as, say, the lobby or the sidewalk. “We as New Yorkers, we don’t want our neighbors recording our comings and goings 24-7,”said Ms. Boghosian who is a member of her Manhattan co-op board and would like to see her own board consider such a policy.

Call your managing agent and find out if the building has a rule about doorbell cameras and whether the camera complies with it. Depending on what you learn, the co-op board may need to be made aware of your neighbor’s bell. If no policy exists, now is probably the time for the co-op board to draft one, taking the concerns of residents into consideration. Ms. Guzov said some co-opsadd restrictions about how a camera is angled, or whether anything can be recorded, and if so, how long the material can be stored.

You should also talk to your neighbor. Knock on the door, introduce yourself and politely explain your concerns. Ask if the camera could be removed, if its recording feature could be shut off, or, at the very least, if it could be directed away from your apartment door. Your neighbor might not realize that this bothers you at all, and might be willing to accommodate your request. But if they brush you off, which is certainly possible, you can lobby the board for a policy that protects your privacy.

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