Surveillance and the Law Maintaining Safety While Respecting Privacy

Secure.  The word has many meanings.  According to Google definitions it can mean “to fix or attach something to something else.  It can mean to protect against threats or make safe.  Or it can mean to feel free from fear or anxiety.”  Perhaps that feeling of security is the single most important thing we can to feel in our homes.

Security is a major issue for condominium communities today.  The choice to buy into a condominium or other multifamily community overseen by an HOA rather than a private home may even be based on the desire of the purchaser to have peace of mind that security concerns are being addressed on a community-wide basis.  According to an article that appeared in CONDO.ca online, “Security was the number-one concern among people looking to purchase a condominium.” 

The state of surveillance and security has come a long way over the past few decades.  Where security issues used to rest on the employment of security personnel and perimeter fencing, today’s security arrangements are more hi-tech and complex.  Along with technology though, has come an uptick in both legislation and litigation—much of it arising at the intersection of legitimate security concerns with equally legitimate concerns about propriety and privacy.

Walking a High Wire

While board members of condominium associations and HOAs are as concerned with their security as the rest of their fellow condominium members, they have to balance the legal issues that govern both the successful security apparatus of the community and the potential liabilities of the association.  According to Lisa A. Magill, an attorney Of counsel with Kaye Bender Rembaum, a law firm with offices in both Pompano Beach and Palm Beach Gardens, “Boards must refrain from referring to personnel as ‘security guards’ and stay away from any claims that the property is ‘secure.’  Guard gates do not necessarily function as security devices—they are more of a traffic control system and amenity.  The association is not intended to be a ‘guarantor’ of security, even though there is a fiduciary duty to maintain the property in safe condition.”  The distinction may seem nitpicky, but it is in fact a fair basis for litigation, so for the sake of the community and the board it is important.  

Another interesting facet of the laws governing security in Sunshine State condos and HOAs pertains to when a board can act on its own to change or otherwise increase (or for that matter decrease) security arrangements.  Magill explains that “The Florida Condominium Law generally prohibits ‘material alterations’ or ‘substantial additions’ to a property without membership approval.  Security and many technological improvements can be considered alterations or improvements, triggering a membership vote.  For example, in Warner Trust v. Azure at Bonita Bay Condominium Assn., Inc. the board installed two additional cameras in the building, one at the door from the parking deck to the garage and the other at the doors from the parking deck to the lobby.  The building was originally constructed with three security cameras at major entry points.”

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