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Subject: Self-Installed Security Camera Liability
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08/01/2020 12:16 AM  
I've got a question regarding the liability of self-installing security cameras.

Our HOA is in the middle of obtaining multiple bids for an on-premise, property-wide security camera system from outside camera vendors in hopes of catching petty vandalism and theft happening in our building. We asked the homeowners to vote and approve a budget for these cameras and they approved it with a very large majority.

On two different occasions in our 2 year-long quest to find the right system for us, two different board members have brought up the idea of trying to save money on the project by either 1) Self-installing a camera system they saw at Costco or 2) Self-installing wifi cameras they saw on Amazon for $20 each.

This latter idea is being pushed really hard by one board member who insists that it'll be a piece of cake for him to install on his own.

There are very obvious technical challenges that would make these off the shelf or cheap systems a terrible solution for us, including:

-Our property is a quarter-mile from end to end and we need 30 cameras to cover it all
-Lack of property-wide wifi (board member thinks its as easy as plugging in a wireless router and it'll reach everywhere)
-If the camera is battery powered, no clear answer on who will change out the battery on all 30 cameras on a regular basis
-If the camera is electrically powered, no clear answer on the cost of running 30 new electrical outlets

Clearly, this idea is a mess technically and I wager will be just as expensive as installing a professional camera system from the get-go.

In the past, I've shared on this reasoning and it seems to have been enough to stop the discussion on self-installing. But not this time.

So I wanted to reach out to the group here and ask if you may be able to share reasons that an individual board member or HOA should not self-install a security camera system?

One reason that I can think of is that the individual board member is exposed to personal liability if the camera system they installed themselves on behalf of the HOA is not working and a resident asks for the non-existent footage from a security incident. But I'm not 100% sure if this is true.

Thanks in advance.


08/01/2020 4:51 AM  
People often overlook one detail when installing security cameras... The law. Meaning how and if the video camera footage you catch is going to do you any good in a court of law? It may help with just identifying the violators so they get caught by police. However, once caught is anyone going to follow through with the actual court case?

You also have to factor in that whom is going to press the charges against the violators? Is it the individual homeowner that was vandalized or is it the HOA that is to pursue the legal course?

Just know that installing cameras isn't the only thing involved here for crime prevention or pursuit of charges. It is always best to let professional licensed installers to do the work. You could lose out on any warranties these products offer as well.

Former HOA President


08/01/2020 5:27 AM  
I second what Melissa has said about making sure you understand all of the laws involved before you actually install the camera system.

Related to that, the board should develop a list of things you want to accomplish and create a policy and procedures ahead of time, and put them in writing as part of your association's official records. In other words, do you simply want to deter the vandals, or do you want sufficient evidence to prosecute? Consider things like who can request to view footage, for what reasons, and how long footage needs to be retained. These may seem like simple issues, but they're not since they get into legal and liability issues (talk to your insurance agent also!). Get this wrong, and your system may not provide the benefits you think that it does.

Once you've defined what it is that you want to accomplish, then you buy the hardware that will allow you to do so. Buying the hardware first and then figuring out what you want to do with it is backwards. (That is, I agree with Bobby's concerns and he should trust his instincts about this. The other board members who want to go the El Cheapo Amazon route don't understand what they're doing.)

So... Research first. Then list your requirements. Then policy and procedures that support these requirements. Then select equipment and installers.



08/01/2020 6:44 AM  
This is not something you want Lucy and Ethel installing. Honestly this is something for the pros. Do not, I repeat DO NOT let some camera company snooker you into telling you that you need "X" number of internet access at $75.00 a pop, say the words network bridge and they start to stammer.

Get about four bids, detailed bids with brand names and model numbers of the equipment they will use. then do some research on google and look up these cameras. You might find something comparable, then ask your vendors about other equipment and modify their bids.



08/01/2020 8:53 PM  
I installed one of those Costco systems at my last house and I can tell you that equipment is far from professional grade. Out of 8 cameras, I had to replace 2-3 per year, they just didn't last. Real commercial quality equipment will cost more but that's what you really want for an HOA install. And you really want it professionally installed.

Escaped former treasurer and director of a self managed association.


08/01/2020 11:53 PM  
Thanks for the great advice, everyone! I've got some more work to do now


08/02/2020 6:28 AM  
Another tip... Your local police may offer some neighborhood watch programs. Remember to keep the Neighborhood watch SEPARATE from the HOA. Do not let HOA monies/insurance intermingle. Can have the SAME members and include ALL residents that are in residence. If your HOA doesn't even want to go the "Neighborhood" watch route, the police could provide some tips on camera placements and laws.

Which your HOA will have to decide who "owns" that footage. This could factor in some legal or insurance issues.

Thought it was going to be simple just to put up cameras? LOL! Welcome to being on a HOA board... It's NEVER that simple...

Former HOA President


08/02/2020 4:03 PM  
IMO, others here are correct, do not even think about doing it yourselves. You FIRST need the advice of experts.

Does your HOA have an attorney, Bobby? If so & s/he's on retainer, give them a quick call to find out your HOA's liability position re: a DIY camera/monitoring system. Even if not on retainer, I donn' think it'd cost much to get a written opinion of the matter.

Also check with your insurance agent for their advice. You might see if you can get a policy reduction if you install a robust camera system.

Is your HOA detached homes or condo buildings, or??

I've been on our high rise condo board for a loooong time and cannot even tell you how many "frugal" board members have come up with really stupid ideas for "saving" money. In every case, the topic was something they knew nothing about.



08/04/2020 12:53 AM  
Thanks for the additional tips! I apologize for not going into more detail earlier. I didn't want to cause confusion with details on the system itself vs. the problem with DIY installing and trying to get that particular board member not to go down that route.

A few folks brought up retaining an attorney. We did this from the get go to help guide us. To your point, Cathy, we received some guidance on camera placement, privacy implications, what to keep in mind, and more. And he's helping to draft our camera footage/storage/access policy.

Kerry, you bring up a good suggestion. This definitely needs a written opinion from the attorney regarding the interest in DIY install. (I hope the attorney's written opinion can throw cold water on the idea!). To your other question, it's a condo.

What we don't have is a thoroughly written objective and goals for the system. It's been verbally discussed many times in meetings. And we did write a brief one for our homeowners when they voted on a budget for the system. But thanks for the recommendation to get it all down in writing, formally, once and for all.

Our goal with the camera system is two-fold. Protect residents and protect the association from wrong doing.

Examples of the former would be car break-in's, package thefts (from a common mail room), and such. In this case, we would review footage when we receive a request and provide it to the resident or police if requested.

Examples of the latter involve claims made against the association by residents or visitors claiming damage to their vehicle/unit/etc by a falling object, an management employee, etc. We recently had to pay out a large chunk of cash on one of these frivolous claims (to my dismay).

Ownership of the footage will belong with the association, stored for 30 days, access belonging on to the professional management team for the association. Board members will not have access. There will be a process in place for residents to formally request footage in conjunction with an incident.

On the vendor bidding front, we've received proposals from a dozen different camera/security/installer vendors. Some only wanted to sell the hardware, some only wanted to do labor, some wanted to do all of it. Based on all the conversations had, the problems pointed out, and the infrastructure upgrades needed, we're pretty comfortable that all of the advice we received has lined up. The last bit we need to do with the system is to decided on the system we want from the ones presented and also researched by us, the specific hardware needed to address problem areas, and finalizing camera placement.

There were some residents interested in forming a neighborhood watch. To your point, Melissa, the police encouraged residents to do so. But we made clear that this would be a completely separate function and group from the HOA for legal/liability reasons. The interest from those particular residents fizzled out eventually. I personally hope it starts up again, but it's definitely gotta be done with a group of dedicated residents outside the HOA.

Overall, I understand the sequencing of the recommended events is out of order. But I hope we've got our basis covered between all of this. And I appreciate the reminder from other folks here on dotting our I's and crossing our T's. It's a big endeavor and we want to make sure we get it right.
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Forums > Homeowner Association > HOA Discussions > Self-Installed Security Camera Liability

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