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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2 Comments

  • your article was very enlightening. i am a strong proponent of condo safety and security. i own a condo on the west side of a1a . there are no security locks or intercom at our lobby door. our sister condo on the east side has locks and an entry intercom for the lobby door and locks for 2 gates on the north and south sides. i sent your article to the president and members of our board of directors who have continually tabled the security and safety for the west side issues when they came up at board meetings. this has continued for well over a year. if you have any constructive suggestions to urge our board to take reasonably immediate action on the security and safety issues, please inform me of strategies that will move the board to act positively. thanks,\ chris cfox863@gmail.com
  • Hi I live on an end unit in FL nearest to the street. Kitty corner to my villa on the opposite corner about a 100 feet away is a house full of really bad folks. They stay outside mainly right in front of the house day and night and get very loud as the drugs, booze and whatever else they do role in on a daily basis. I was secretary on my board and last May I had a bullet come thru my mania from that home. Ive called the cops many times, its still going on. And I was also kept a dialogue going with the Safety and Crime Prevention Officer for our city. i asked for a corner fence to block them out as the bullet would have hit that fence instead of whizzing by my head that day (on police report) My board allowed for a wood fence with a $2000 cap, well, the contractor called me to say that they would only allow a any color PVC fence in, but not the wood. that was $2100. I offered to pay the difference. The president then told me that we weren't doing it because they dont want PVC> So the esthetics is more important then I am I guess. They had me call them and issue the deposit. Im terrified. And have been since that day. What law are they breaking? Can someone help me. Im now writing to the dept of business and professional regulation division of florida condos. What else can I do besides give a lawyer a huge retainer? Im heartbroken here, I thought I was home. L