Video Surveillance in tenant disputes — Landlords, take the high road!

The wall Street journal ran an article this week on a recent perjury conviction of a NYPD veteran that resulted from a rent-control apartment dispute.

In this case, the landlord suspecting that two brothers were holding on to a coveted $151 a month apartment (market rate is likely north of $3,000 month) without actually living there installed hidden cameras to track the tenants movements in the building and used this evidence to prove that the tenants were scamming him and perjuring themselves in court.

In New York City, landlord tenants disputes happen often, make the news often, and are generally polarizing, with the usual suspects taking their expected sides. But this particular case is riveting because by most objective standards there are seemingly no good guys here.On the one hand we have an NYPD officer stealing money from a landlord, and on the other we have a landlord installing creepy hidden cameras in the building.

As the founder of a proactive surveillance startup, I get plenty of landlords who come to me seeking a tool to catch cheating tenants. I also run into my fair share of residents who complain that their landlords and his/her agents have free reign to record them in compromising positions, and that there is little accountability and transparency. My company takes a community approach to solving surveillance, but that’s for another time…

On the general issue of privacy, whether it’s online privacy, physical privacy or surveillance privacy I believe the best approach is to balance the loss with transparency. If there is transparency allowing people to understand the scope, quality and depth of the information being gathered they are more likely to come to a reasoned response, opinion and reaction. If I know that while the building super can see that someone is coming through the hallway, he cannot make out the face of my new girlfriend I am likely to have a more tame reaction.

In New York City the case law is settled, Landlords have the right to install cameras throughout the public spaces in their buildings so long as it does not directly point into the private apartments of the residents. That leaves ample opportunities for landlords to install in plain sight surveillance systems that can serve to actually make their residents safer, as well to improve the quality of living experiences in the building while also providing the landlord with the necessary tools to insure the that they are not being ripped off. These systems do not need to be much more expensive than the wild hidden spy camera systems these landlords are opting for now, and they are readily available.

Imagine if this landlord had had a proactive cloud surveillance solution with cameras throughout his building in plain sight . He would have had all the deterrence necessary to dissuade cheating tenants. At the same time he might have earned the respect and appreciation of his other residents for providing a cleaner and more secure building.

Building surveillance can and should be used to improve everyone’s living experience. There is no reason why that video cannot be used today to improve residents experiences.

As we were gathering data for our startup we put together a landlord survey from which we learned that most landlords care deeply that their tenants view them as ‘conscientious’ and caring. I’ve spent time with many landlords and I’ve seen them greet and look in on the welfare of their residents and show genuine care and concern for their residents. So why are some people so short-sighted? Why spend money in a creepy manner and earn the ire of anybody you run across, when for similar money you could have earned respect and appreciation?