Is It Legal to Put a Camera in Someone’s House?

is it legal to put a camera in someone's house

Lots of us enjoy watching Big Brother. Oddly though, the idea of having cameras watching you all the time is less than comforting. On the other hand, it might be nice to be able to always be 100% sure of what someone else is doing. Worried about a philandering spouse? Don’t trust the tenants who just rented your house? There are lots of reasons to want your own CCTV.

Is it legal to put a camera in someone’s house? In some cases, hallways in apartment buildings, or common areas in shared residences you can place cameras. Outdoors is also acceptable. However, inside bedrooms, bathrooms and private residences things are different. Unless you have clear written permission from a completely consenting adult, no you can’t put a camera in their home. Even if you own the house they live in your tenants have the right to privacy and quiet enjoyment.  

Can I Put Cameras and Recording Devices in My Own Residence

If you live there, then you usually have the right to record what goes on. Some states laws may vary, so as always, you want to double check. Knowing your local laws is still the best route to avoid trouble. If necessary, use an ask-a-lawyer service to find the information you need.

Nanny cams have become increasingly popular in recent years. Likewise, home surveillance systems that allow the owner to see what’s going on in their house by checking an app on their phone are gaining favor. It’s fine to do this under most circumstances. After all, you own the property, you can look at it.

Where it’s Not OK

The exceptions to this rule are simple and finite. Unless your state or city has a special provision, most areas of the home are fine to record on camera. Be aware that recording a conversation is not the same as video and may have different laws. If you have guests, roommates or family they have some rights even if you own the house.

Anywhere a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy is likely to be off limits. Recording other people in your bathroom would be a bad plan. Similarly, putting a camera in someones’ bedroom might be a bit over the line. If you have consent or give full disclosure it may change the way the law views your cameras. Mostly though, you can put up cameras in the other rooms, hallways, basements and attics, or wherever you like.

Do I Have to Tell People About Cameras In My Home

The honest answer is maybe. Again, get to know your local laws because things aren’t the same everywhere. In general, if you’re not recording naked people then it’s mostly alright. You may want to say something or even post a sign, but you don’t necessarily have to if you follow the law.

Make sure you opt for a camera with no voice recording. Wiretapping laws are serious. The restrictions on recording conversations are a whole different animal. Restrictions on recorded conversations come with big penalties. It is not worth risking years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines just to overhear what the nanny says to her boyfriend while your kid is napping.

Can I Record My Tenants

As a property owner and a landlord you may have concerns. You are responsible for the property and tenant safety after all. Installing cameras might be a smart move. How can you do it legally though? Can you put them in everywhere?  To know whether there is a  hidden camera or other recording devices, you want to get this detector on Amazon.


If you want to place outdoor cameras, especially facing outward to deter break-ins, you can do that. What you can’t do is question tenants about their comings and goings. It is none of your concern if one apartment gets ten deliveries a day and another gets fifty visitors.

No one likes to think their tenants are up to no good. When you suspect tenants of drug, gang or other dangerous activities then perhaps you should consider hiring a professional investigator. Alternately, you could simply opt not to continue renting to them when the lease expires.

Common Areas Inside

When you own a boarding house or apartment complex you can put some cameras indoors. Most states allow you to put cameras in laundry rooms and shared hallways. In a boarding house, you can probably get away with putting cameras in the living room and dining areas. You should probably put a notice in the lease to be sure your bases are covered.

Inside Living Quarters

Say you want to put a camera in your new tenants private (not shared or communal) kitchen, can you do that? No, you absolutely cannot. Inside private homes, apartments, duplexes, or rented rooms and shared bathrooms cameras are only good for one thing, getting you arrested.

It may seem like a good idea when you first think about it but don’t take the risk. First, even if you see something go horribly wrong, you can’t do anything about it because your footage is illegal. Second, the penalties are incredibly steep. Jail and massive fines are never a good plan.

In addition to the legal penalties for committing a crime, you could face secondary penalties. Tenants can put up bad reviews about you and make it harder for you to rent out the property in the future. Or they could opt to sue you for an invasion of privacy, harassment or even stalking. Just to make sure you can use this detector that can find hidden devices. It is available on Amazon.

Can I Put a Camera In Someone Else’s Home

You may be thinking about putting a hidden camera in a friend or relatives home. Perhaps you suspect your spouse is cheating with the neighbor and want to catch them in the act. Property you don’t own is very different legally from a property which belongs to you.

You absolutely unquestionably cannot do this. No matter what your reason, it’s illegal. Unless you can somehow honestly gain enough trust from the person you want to surveil to get their consent (in writing), then you can’t record them at home. 

Can I Record at My Business

Recording in a business is very similar to a private home. You may need to disclose the presence of cameras. Putting up signs is one way to handle this. Both the customers and the employees may need to be informed. In some states, you may need consent to record employees.

Hidden cameras are a total no-go. You may want to get the real scoop by seeing what people do when they don’t know you’re looking, but you really can’t do this. You can make consent a condition for employment in many cases, but you can’t hide your intentions.

Can I Record People in Public

Good news, you can record in public. The reason for this has to do with privacy. Being out in public, by definition, is not private. Therefore people cannot expect privacy. Where there is no privacy, you aren’t violating privacy rights.

You can still cross the line recording in public places. The intention is everything. Bizarrely, as easy as it is to get in trouble recording in private, it is incredibly challenging to have the same problem in a public area. Even photographing up women’s skirts is (horrifically) still legal in many public places.

One Weird Exception

As you’ve probably figured out, the laws about filming and audio recording people aren’t quite what you’d expect. Most of the time you need consent to record people. Bizarrely, there is one really sensible exception to this. If you live in California you have the right to record someone without consent in one special circumstance. You can always record bribery, extortion, kidnapping, or a violent felony. It seems like more states should adopt this exception.

Final Thoughts

Putting in security and surveillance cameras is a little bit like walking on eggshells. You have to be very careful about how you handle it. Whenever you deal with other peoples’ privacy things get touchy. You have the right to protect yourself and have privacy. Likewise, everyone else has those same rights. You can end up in hot water, or even in jail for violating other people’s rights. As mentioned earlier, I highly recommend this detector in case you need to know whether is a hidden recording device in your home or office.

Additional Questions

How long can a hidden camera record? Your camera battery life is incredibly variable. In general, you get what you pay for so read the specifications before you buy. Some cameras last about an hour, these are low-end models. Meanwhile, other top-of-the-line spy cams can record for weeks. Make your choice based on your needs and budget.

How can you prevent someone from recording you? When you are at home, you can make sure to draw your curtains. Keep your private activities where other’s can’t possibly see them. This means you can’t take it out to the yard, even with a fence. You can also look into a signal jammer. Unfortunately, it’s illegal to interfere with transmissions most places. You could get in a lot of trouble for protecting your privacy this way.

How can you tell if you’re being recorded? Counter-surveillance is an entire industry. You can buy portable gadgets to detect recording devices. If you want to avoid being caught on camera unaware then start with something that picks up wireless signals and cameras in your vicinity. You’ll feel safer, and you will always know if there’s something around sending those invisible messages. Try not to let this make you overly paranoid. Your device may pick up harmless signals in addition to the troublesome variety.

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