We’ve all heard of “nanny cams” and realize that many homes with babies are equipped with them. A fair number of pet owners have them, too – some even enable dog or cat owners to talk with their furry family members remotely, and some super high tech ones even dispense treats!
But what about homes for sale in Silicon Valley? Do many of our local San Jose area listings have nanny cams? And if so, are they recording audio as well as video?
What we’re really asking is this: are sellers spying on buyers?
In a nutshell, it’s legal for home sellers to use video doorbells and security cameras that use audio by their front door and in areas that would be considered “public”. Hidden nanny cams that record audio without the recorded person’s consent are illegal. Having security cameras indoors that do not record sound, though, are legal.
Security cameras, video doorbells, and nanny cams
What’s allowed in terms of recording varies from state to state. A cousin of mine who sold her home in another state had indoor security cameras with audio and she watched the open house events to see what was said (by her agent as well as by the buyers or interested visitors). In that state, it was legal to do so.
In California that would be illegal unless the people being recorded had given their consent. California’s eavesdropping law aims to curb recordings done without permission on the phone or in a place where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy. In other words, having a hidden nanny cam that records audio is illegal.
Exceptions include public places
There are some exceptions, though. One is if you’re in a public place. It seems that one’s front yard or front porch – anything before the front door – is public. Therefore it’s perfectly legal to have security systems that record video and audio both. Some enable conversion to be two ways, too.
Approach any high tech video doorbell on a front porch and what you do and say can be seen and heard, and it’s legal to do so.
Hold the conversations until later
It’s easy to forget that even a quiet conversation on a front porch or driveway my give away info you’d rather not share with the sellers or their agent. If you can see a camera, there’s a good chance that it can records both sounds and sights.
Inside, there should not be any audio recordings being made, but there could be hidden nanny cams, so you cannot be sure. Some of them are quite small and easy to miss. It’s best to behave as if cameras with sound are rolling, and to avoid discussing anything sensitive while in the home or in earshot of surveillance cameras.
A video from Washington State
A few years ago, I saw the video below, which is from a real estate attorney in the state of Washington. Our rules may be different but the prevalence of the nanny cam is something to be considered. Have a look and listen:
I like her idea that questions and comments should be held until away from the property. That cannot hurt and may help your position should you elect to present an offer on that property later.
Security related reading:
California audio and video recording laws (on the recordinglaw.com website)