A Long, Slow Elevator Ride
Prying Security Cameras
My landlord just installed a weird and creepy camera in the hallway that looks directly into my apartment, even though it appears to face the street. When I open my apartment door, the camera can see into my vestibule. Is that legal? What should I do?
East Village, Manhattan
When you walk inside your apartment and close the door, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, which is why it would be illegal for your landlord to install a camera in your bedroom without your knowledge or permission. But when you open that door and step into the hallway, you enter the public realm and relinquish that right to privacy. So your landlord can place a camera in the hallway, even one that stares you down when you open your door.
“It may be creepy, but it does not violate the law,” said Steven R. Wagner, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. The vestibule inside your apartment is not considered private when your door is open, making it fair game for the camera’s lens.
Landlords sometimes employ these surveillance methods if they suspect a tenant is engaging in criminal activity, like selling drugs out of the apartment, or violating the terms of the lease, like subletting the place illegally. Although rent-regulated tenants are usually the target of aggressive surveillance, a landlord might also have reason to spy on a market-rate tenant whom he wants to evict.
The behavior might rise to the level of harassment if your landlord engages in a repeated course of conduct that alarms or seriously annoys you and serves no legitimate purpose, said Jonathan I. Mann, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. If you think this behavior crosses a line, write the landlord a letter saying you feel harassed by the camera, and you retain the right to file a civil or administrative complaint against him if he does not remove it. At the very least, the landlord might change the camera angle.