Exterior Home Security

Can Apartment Tenants Install a Security System Without Landlord Permission?

A security system can help a renter improve their apartment or rental home security—but installing certain security devices without their landlord’s permission could lead to trouble.
A close up of a worker in an orange hard hat installing a security camera.

Photo: istockphoto.com kadmy

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Q: I’m renting an apartment in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and I’d like to install a security system in my unit. But I’m not sure of the legalities. Can a tenant install a security system without landlord permission? If so, what exactly can I install—and are there limitations on where I place these devices?

A: Determining whether a tenant can install a security system without landlord permission is tricky. For one, there’s a wide variety of security equipment and devices to consider—while some might be allowed, others might violate your lease agreement. Where you install the devices (and how they’re installed) also plays a role in determining their legality. For example, drilling holes into a shared wall might not be allowed, but placing a wireless indoor camera in your kitchen might be perfectly acceptable.

“There really isn’t a one-size fits all response other than to act in accordance with the terms of the lease,” explains Michael A. Smeenk, shareholder at Frascona Joiner Goodman & Greenstein, attorneys-at-law in Boulder, Colorado.

Further complicating things is regionality, as some states have more relaxed laws regarding security cameras than others. What might be legal in one place could be illegal in another, so tenants need to pay close attention to their state’s legislation. Beyond that, each landlord might have different requirements in their leasing agreement that prohibit or allow certain types of security cameras. All these rules and regulations make it challenging to determine the legality of surveillance cameras in rental units.

So, can tenants install security cameras without landlord permission? Let’s take a closer look at all these scenarios to help you navigate the murky waters.

Some states allow tenants to install a security system without notifying their landlord, while others require landlord permission.

The first thing for a tenant to determine when installing a security system for a rental property is whether doing so is allowed under state law. Some states require two-party consent for recording devices (such as security cameras) to be installed. In this case, tenants will need to contact their landlord for permission to improve their apartment security with cameras and other security devices.

However, many states have one-party consent laws, in which case only one party (that is, the tenant) needs to agree to have home security devices installed. In these locations, tenants have a bit more freedom when it comes to the types of security devices they can place in their units. Apartment security camera laws for tenants vary by location and can be obscure. This means it’s important for renters to check these regulations before buying a security system for a rental home.

That’s not the end of the story, unfortunately, as there could still be restrictions in the leasing contract that prohibit certain devices from being installed. Each landlord will treat their property differently, and just because the state allows tenants to install security devices doesn’t mean they have free rein to drill holes into walls or place cameras on the exterior of a unit.

Before purchasing any equipment, renters will want to check with their local municipality for the current laws about two-party consent and other laws for home security cameras. Laws can vary drastically from location to location, with some allowing both visual and audio recordings and others only allowing video. In short, it pays for renters to do this research before purchasing a security system so they don’t purchase something they can’t legally install.

A close up of a worker installing a security camera on a home's exterior.
Photo: istockphoto.com Andrey Popov

Installing indoor cameras is less likely to require landlord permission.

When it comes to cameras, laws are very different for exterior cameras and interior ones. If a tenant wants to install an indoor camera, there will likely be fewer restrictions than if they were to install an outdoor camera. This is because indoor cameras only film the tenant’s unit. By contrast, an exterior camera will likely film common areas or may encroach on the privacy of other tenants or neighbors.

What’s more, many indoor cameras are easy to install and don’t require drilling or professional installation. Products like the Ring Stick Up Cam Pro can be placed on a countertop to record motion events without damaging walls or the ceiling with an invasive installation process. It also connects via Wi-Fi and runs on a rechargeable battery, giving tenants the versatility to place it in a location that only captures their unit.

Tenants will want to keep in mind that they may not be allowed to place an indoor camera in their unit. Indoor cameras are typically subject to the same state laws and leasing agreement terms as outdoor cameras, though there’s a good chance landlords won’t mind if one is placed in the unit. If the state law only requires one-party consent and the leasing agreement doesn’t specifically prohibit them, there shouldn’t be an issue with a tenant placing a wireless security camera in a rental property. 

While no company creates specific security cameras for apartments, ones that are wireless and sit on countertops are often deemed renter-friendly security cameras. Tenants who need help finding ideal products will want to start their search with the best apartment security systems, such as those from SimpliSafe, to find the devices that will work well in their home.

Tenants are usually not permitted to install security cameras in common areas such as hallways or parking lots without landlord permission.

While there’s a good chance indoor cameras will be permissible for tenants, cameras placed in exterior or shared spaces will likely be off-limits. Cameras in these spaces are often heavily regulated by landlords, especially for multi-family properties such as an apartment or a condo. In this case, other tenants will have access to these shared locations, so they may fall under the purview of different regulations.

The same is also true for outdoor cameras that encroach on the private space of other tenants or nearby neighbors. For example, even if a tenant is allowed to install a camera, it could pose legal problems if it’s recording a neighbor’s private residence or another rental unit. And because rentals often come in the form of dense housing such as apartments or duplexes, it could be challenging to position a camera in such a way that its view is limited to just the tenant’s property.

Many cameras allow users to set restricted zones or motion zones, allowing them to limit the view of the apartment security camera. However, many locations and landlords have serious restrictions around the use of security devices in shared spaces, making it less likely these will be permitted than indoor cameras. Video surveillance for apartment complexes is a nuanced subject, and tenants must understand all laws and regulations before setting up their equipment.

A worker shows a woman how to use a home automation control panel.
Photo: istockphoto.com djedzura

Some lease agreements might stipulate that a tenant must get landlord permission before installing a security system.

Every lease agreement is different, and it pays to read the fine print before installing a security system. When it comes to security systems, there’s a strong possibility the agreement covers their use and dictates specific terms on where they can be installed and what types of devices are acceptable.

Along with laying out guidelines for the type of equipment that can be installed, many agreements also mandate tenants contact the landlord for permission before installing a security system. Because the property technically belongs to the landlord, installing permanent (or semipermanent) fixtures such as a security system often requires approval beforehand. Landlords will have the final say on what can or cannot be placed inside a home, and these terms are often laid out directly in the contract a renter signed before moving in.

The main issue, however, is that these terms can vary wildly from one leasing agreement to the next. Terms can also vary for different security devices—so while a landlord may let tenants install a motion sensor in their home, other devices like cameras or video doorbells may be restricted. Because of this, tenants interested in installing any type of security system will want to double-check their lease agreement to see if their landlord needs to be notified before they install any security devices. This could save them the headache of buying a comprehensive security system, only to be forced to uninstall it due to restrictions in their lease.

Security camera installation costs can quickly eat into a renter’s budget, so it’s important that they ensure their lease agreement allows for security system setup before proceeding with the installation. If a security system is allowed, then opting for a DIY security system could be a good way to save money—especially for those who know, or are willing to learn, how to install security cameras correctly.

Ideally, landlords are using one of the best tenant screening services, which can help assure renters in shared rental communities that their neighbors have been vetted and will be unlikely to go snooping around the property. This additional reassurance may negate a tenant’s need to install secondary security systems.

Tenants might also need to get landlord permission if installing a security system requires drilling holes in the wall.

As for most home improvement projects, tenants may need permission if they plan to drill holes in the wall for their security system. This means they’ll not only need to verify that security systems are allowed by their lease agreement, but they’ll also need to ensure it’s permitted for them to “damage” the walls to install cameras or motion sensors.

Installing a security camera for an apartment on a wall can become a labor-intensive task. Unlike models that can be placed on countertops without damaging any property, wall-mounted units often require several drill holes. If it’s a wired device, it may also require significant electrical work to get it powered. All of these tasks are likely governed by a lease agreement. So even if a landlord will allow a security system, it’s possible they’ll prohibit devices that are affixed to walls or require additional electrical wiring. 

In most instances, tenants will want to avoid security systems that require these sorts of installation processes. Not only are they likely to be restricted by the landlord, but they’re not easy to remove. And if the tenant plans to leave the rental in the future, removing the devices and reinstalling them at their new home could be a headache.

If a tenant isn’t allowed to install a security system, they can look into other affordable ways to improve their apartment door security. Such methods are low maintenance and typically fall within the guidelines laid out in a rental agreement. They are especially important for first-floor apartment safety. Tenants can also look into installing a smart lock, as some companies produce models that sit on top of existing hardware and are ideal for renters.

A worker installs a control panel for a security system.
Photo: istockphoto.com nilimage

Whether or not it’s required, it’s generally a good idea for tenants to let their landlord know if they plan to install a security system.

Since there are so many factors to consider when installing a security system as a tenant, it’s generally advised that tenants reach out to their landlord beforehand. Open communication like this helps keep the tenant and landlord on good terms, and it’s also a great way to verify that installing cameras or other devices won’t violate a lease agreement.

What’s more, some landlords might approve of the installation of a security system and might be able to help with its setup or recommend one of the best home security systems, such as one from Vivint or ADT, for the unit. They might also be able to help figure out how many security cameras are needed to adequately guard the property and give tenants advice on what to look for in a home security camera. This is especially true if it’s a semipermanent fixture that’s attached to walls or ceilings. Even if the landlord doesn’t help with the installation, contacting them before buying any products can save tenants the hassle of having to return any items that aren’t allowed by their lease.

Navigating all these legal waters can be complicated. Tenants who are unsure of their options after reading their lease agreement can have some of their questions answered by talking with their landlord. If questions persist, contacting a local lawyer familiar with tenants’ rights is the next best course of action. Breaking a lease agreement can lead to serious problems, and if there’s any doubt about whether a security system can be installed, it’s best to discuss the issue with an expert. It’s also a good idea to sign up for a policy from one of the best renters insurance companies (such as Lemonade), as that’ll give tenants peace of mind that all their belongings are safe—even if security cameras can’t be installed.