SHOULD YOU SET UP CAMERAS IN YOUR RENTAL PROPERTY?
This is a question that comes up often and unlike so many decisions we make and test to solidify best practices, the jury is still out on the use of cameras. Like many real estate choices, the deciding factor should lie with the owner’s primary objectives, understanding of how the choice will affect the bottom line, all balanced with the owner’s personality and comfort level. With those variables in mind, Greg Rice and our Nexus Property Management Franchise team, have organized some thoughts for your consideration. Greg owns and manages over 100 units of his own and does not have any cameras in them, but he’s intrigued by the idea:
A QUICK AND IMPORTANT “ZOOM IN”
We want to be clear that we’re talking about cameras in common areas, not within tenants’ units. Common areas include hallways, stairs, basements, laundry rooms, exteriors, or garages. These are areas that are shared and are typically the owner’s responsibility to maintain and keep safe. Nexus does not recommend or support the idea of cameras inside rental units. In fact, we do our best to dissuade our clients from even inspecting occupied units because it can lead to a plethora of negative effects and rarely yields actionable gains [ INSPECTING TENANT OCCUPIED APARTMENTS: YOUR CURIOSITY AND LACK OF TRUST WILL PROBABLY COST YOU ]. Despite the fact you own the building, cameras within someone’s private living space opens a whole can of worms that could lead to much bigger problems. So for this conversation, we’re focusing on the much more important question of whether or not you should use cameras to surveille those common areas. Here are several pros and cons for your consideration.
[ Learn More: HOW DO YOU HANDLE TENANTS WHO VIOLATE THEIR LEASE AGREEMENTS? ]
BREAKING DOWN THE PROS AND CONS:
CON: UPFRONT COST
To install cameras, it’s going to cost you. In addition to the cameras themselves, you’ll likely need to pay a monthly expense for the service in addition to a separate internet connection to run the feed. Using ballpark figures of $100 a month for the camera service and a similar cost to set up and run your wifi, you’re looking at an extra $2400 in expenses each year…and that’s just for one camera. Estimates can be as high as $2,000 to install 12 cameras in one apartment. If you own more than one, and hopefully that is your aim, is this a scalable strategy? Are the benefits worth these upfront costs? Could that money be better spent elsewhere?
[Learn More: COSTS OF INSTALLING RESIDENTIAL SURVEILLANCE SYSTEMS ]
PRO: POTENTIAL REASSURANCE
That $2400 might be worth it though. Although you might think a camera says “I don’t trust you”, they’ve become more and more common in our society and that perception is likely outdated. A more appropriate lens might be that of a lock. We all lock our cars and the doors to our houses and despite the fact they’re not foolproof, they do add a sense of reassurance and safety at very little cost. A lock on a gate says, “don’t come any further” and “you’re not allowed in here” in the same way a camera would say, “appropriate behavior expected” and “you’re allowed here but there are still rules”.
It may seem the opposite in today’s world, but in our experience most people are honest people. To a dishonest person, a camera might be a problem, but for most tenants (especially if you were diligent in your screening process), it could make them feel safer and add perceived value to living in your building.
CON: CAMERA INQUIRIES FROM TENANTS
Tenants might feel more comfortable once they come to accept common area cameras, but this could lead to time-consuming annoyance in the form of anxious inquiry. “My package should’ve arrived yesterday but I didn’t see it…can you check to see if it was on the camera?” “I saw a suspicious car in the driveway yesterday and now I’m missing something…can you check to see if they got out of the car?” “Someone knocked on the door while I was in the shower. Can you see who it was?” “I heard something really loud late last night and I’m pretty sure it’s the tenant in 2B again…can you check the camera to see what he was up to?”
These types of issues can be time consuming and reduce inefficiency. More than likely, hopefully, you’ll establish that you can’t look into these things, but even then it actually works to devalue the experience for anxious tenants because they’re going to feel like you can do something about their issues but you’re choosing not to. That’s not a good place to be. You also run the risk of getting pulled into tenant conflicts, which is never conducive to what should be your main goal: hassle free long term tenancy.
[ Learn More: WHAT DO YOU WHEN TENANTS HAVE CONFLICTS WITH EACH OTHER? ]
PRO: PROTECTION FROM FRIVOLOUS CLAIMS
On the flipside, having footage of some of the random things that happen could help you in a legal sense. Nexus manages over 1500 units and we field “slip and fall” claims all the time. These can be really tricky because it inevitably becomes your word against theirs and any lapse in maintenance on your end could tip the decision in the plaintiff’s favor. That being said, whether your cameras catch it or not, the mere presence of the surveillance tools will likely decrease the tendency for tenants to drum up claims where there is no foul.
[ Learn More: DO YOU HAVE THE RIGHT RENTAL PROPERTY INSURANCE? ]
Cameras are becoming more and more common in our society and when it comes to your property, thinking about the value that cameras might add is completely appropriate. Surveilling common areas could be costly, but those costs could provide enough value for you and it’s worth taking the time to decide whether or not this makes sense for you. The answer will vary from owner to owner, and even property to property with the same owner. If this is something that’s on your mind, a first best step would be to reach out to a vendor to get a better sense of what exactly your costs would be. From there you’ll be in a better position to relate that expense to the possible benefits cameras could bring to your property.
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Mick Lefort is the Vice President of Operations for Nexus Property Management®. A National Property Management Franchise that manages all types of rental property from single family homes or condos to large apartment buildings and complexes.
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