Unease over hidden cameras is steadily growing, especially when it comes to rental properties. Security cameras on the outside of your apartment building are acceptable, but it is something else when there are hidden cameras within your rental unit that could have been installed by supers, doormen, landlords, roommates, house cleaners, neighbors, assorted friends, and virtually anyone who has the keys to your apartment. Here is a detailed breakdown on what to do if you find a hidden camera in your rental unit
What to do if you find a hidden camera in your apartment? If you find cameras in your apartment that you were not made aware of, do not touch it or disturb it in any other way. Walk out of the camera view immediately and then proceed to contact the local police or authorities so that they can investigate further.
By walking out of the view of the camera, you reduce the probability of recording over old footage in case the SD card becomes full. This way, if the perpetrator unknowingly happened to record themselves as they were setting up the hidden, you will be reducing the chance of that important footage being recorded over. In some rental units, landlords may put up surveillance cameras, but this will usually be indicated in your lease, so you will want to look over your lease contract carefully to see if there are any provisions for cameras in your unit. In such cases, a camera is not considered to be hidden.
Unfortunately, finding hidden cameras in rental units has become quite a common ordeal. Such occurrences are downright creepy and invasive, especially when the cameras are found in bedrooms, bathrooms, and any other area of the house that you may consider to be private.
What the law says
The law on outdoor and indoor cameras varies from region to region and state to state, so you may have to consult your local law. Nevertheless, there are some general rules that you should keep in mind.
Landlords have the right to put up surveillance cameras (not hidden or spy cameras) outdoors and in common areas such as the backyard, front door, driveway, garage, stairwells, hallways where entry and exit are somewhat uncontrolled.
However, a landlord cannot set up cameras, whether they are visible or hidden, in rooms where you would typically require privacy such as bathrooms and bedrooms. This can also apply to the living room and other somewhat “public’ indoor spaces if you are not aware that the cameras are not there. However, if your landlord reveals that there are cameras in the unit verbally or in your lease contract, it will be harder to make a legal case against him/her. It gets even trickier for an apartment that comprises of one central room and a bathroom, but as long as you require privacy, a surveillance camera should not be in place.
Laws regarding security cameras with audio are much stricter. State laws stipulate that at lease of one of the individuals being recorded has to be aware. On the other hand, several states including Illinois, Florida, Maryland, California, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Montana, and New Hampshire require two-party consent.
How to find a hidden camera in your rental unit
Cameras come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. There are large ones which are quite easy to spot, smaller ones that can be hidden behind decorations and furnishings, and then there are spy cameras that can be hidden in objects like digital picture frames and alarm clock.
1. Make basic observations
Carry out a general scan of the room making sure to look out for anything that appears suspicious or out of place. This may be an item that is positioned in a peculiar manner or unusual gaps in the ceiling or walls. Check clocks, phones, televisions, and any other appliances for exposed wiring, suspicious lights, or anything that is out of the ordinary.
2. Check all the outlets
Hidden cameras, just like any surveillance device, will require a source of power. Whether the device is powered by a wireless battery or an electrical outlet will probably depend on the period of your occupancy and if whoever installed the cameras has access to your room. Battery-operated devices have a limited lifespan, while those that run on electric power can be used for long-term surveillance. Check all the outlets in your unit and identify all the devices that are plugged into them.
3. The positioning of the hidden cameras
A hidden camera will likely be positioned in a manner that would allow the best chance to capture footage. For example, a surveillance device could be aimed at the bed, at the bathroom, or any other vulnerable area. Pay attention to high traffic areas such as hallways, the bedroom door, and the bathroom door as well. It is also important to take a careful look at areas where conversations would normally take place in case a camera with audio is being used. Some of these areas you might want to pay attention to include tables, beds, desks, couches, balconies, and chairs.
4. Objects that could be susceptible to surveillance equipment
Always pay attention to smoke detectors, outlets, bulbs, thermostats, and fixtures. Typically, these devices should match or at least remain similar to each other. If they are different from one another, this could be a course for concern, and you might want to investigate further. The décor could also be hiding spy cameras, so you will want to keep an eye out for pieces that seem out of place.
Once you complete a visual inspection, you will want to cross-examine all suspicious devices or locations using counter-surveillance tools that are effective and easy to use. These tools will help you detect hidden cameras that you might have missed during a visual inspection.
- Buy a Radio Frequency (RF) detector – Most hidden cameras will need to transmit the information the surveyor. An RF detector scans the room in search of devices that emit radio waves. Once it detects a frequency, the detector will produce an audible tone that will fluctuate as the camera is detected closer or further away. This will continue until you find it.
Before you use an RF detector, ensure that all the devices which could potentially emit an RF signal are completely powered down. This includes laptops, tablets, cell phones, Bluetooth devices, etc.
You should also consider testing the RF detector before you put it use. Turn it on and try sweeping it over your cell phone. If it is able to detect the frequency emitted by your cell phone, it is working properly.
- A camera lens detector – Even though RF detectors are effective, they can only detect wireless devices which transmit information. For standalone-devices that function by saving information to an SD card, you will want to use a camera lens detector. This is a device that detects light that reflects off the lens of a camera that may be recording. When a camera lens detector is in use, the lens of the hidden camera will illuminate on its viewing screen, indicating that a camera is in the room.
5. Scanning process
Conduct your inspection by “painting’ the walls. This simply means carefully walk up and down the walls as you scan them with an RF detector or a camera lens detector in a painting motion. While doing this, keep an eye out for any sort of disturbances as well.
6. Turn off the lights
Another strategy that may be useful in helping you detect hidden cameras is turning off all the lights in your apartment. Once you do this, look for any lights that may seem peculiar. Most spy cameras typically have indicator lights which alert whoever installs them that it is powered or recording. If the surveyor forgets to turn off these indicator lights, you can take advantage of this mistake and detect the cameras.
7. Use your phone
In order for hidden cameras to record at night, they usually need Infrared Technology (IR) so as to illuminate the room digitally and consequently allow for the footage to be captured even in complete darkness. One of the easiest ways you can detect IR light is by using the front camera of your phone. The front camera, unlike the rear-facing camera, doesn’t feature an IR filter, hence it can easily detect IR lights in the darkness.
8. Use a thermal imaging camera
Another detection device that you can use is a thermal imaging camera. Most surveillance cameras typically emit a detectable amount of heat. This is due to their small size and the fact that they are usually enclosed a small space that does not allow for much ventilation.
Steps to take if you find a hidden camera in your apartment
If you find a hidden camera that wasn’t revealed to you by your landlord, the best option is to stay out of the view of the camera or leave the property and contact the authorities. If it is an Airbnb, you should also get in touch with the service provider.
Stumbling over a hidden camera is not only creepy but also a great violation of your basic constitutional rights as well as the law. Virtually anyone with access to your apartment can set up hidden cameras, whether it is your landlord, roommates, or supers. When it comes to your privacy, you can never be too careful, and looking for potentially hidden cameras can help you ensure this.