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posted: 4/27/2013 4:30 AM

Association advised against 'dummy' security cameras

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Q. There have been some thefts from cars in the parking lot of our association. The board is considering installing dummy security cameras in the parking lot. Are there legal concerns with this approach?

A. While dummy security cameras may provide some degree of deterrence, installing them does expose the association to liability. Knowing there is a security issue, the association has a duty to take reasonable measures to protect residents and their property.

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By installing a dummy security camera, particularly if there is a known security issue, the association is representing that there is a security measure in place -- one that does not actually exist. If a crime occurs in an area where a person felt secure due to the existence of the camera, the association is at risk for creating the false sense of security. Similarly, there is exposure to liability if a person who was a victim of a crime in an area "monitored" by the dummy camera subpoenas the video and there is none.

Some associations that install dummy cameras make residents aware the cameras are fake, so that the residents do not rely on them. However, word could be spread outside the community and defeat the purpose of the dummy cameras, or unsavory residents themselves could use the information to commit crimes.

There are a growing number of lawsuits finding liability for these dummy cameras. Some security companies will not install them, or they require property owners to sign a disclaimer.

The practical way to mitigate the exposure here is to install real security cameras. A way to mitigate the risk of loss to the association, but not the exposure, is to have good liability insurance. Note, too, that the association might receive an insurance premium reduction if there are working security cameras on the property.

In deciding whether to install dummy security cameras, the board needs to balance the deterrence factor with the potential liability for creating a false sense of security. However, the board would be well advised to install real security cameras that record activity, or to take other appropriate security measures.

Q. The assessed valuation of the units in our condominium association still seem high, compared to the actual sales prices of units that are selling. Can the board appeal the unit assessed valuations, or do the owners have to do this individually?

A. Section 10(c) of the Illinois Condominium Property Act permits the board to seek relief from or in connection with the assessment or levy of any such taxes, special assessments or charges for the individual units. This requires approval by a two-thirds vote of the members of the board of managers.

Note further that the board can charge and collect all expenses incurred in connection with the challenge to the assessed valuations as common expenses. Typically, these matters are handled by the attorney on a contingent fee basis. The fees are usually some percentage of the tax savings, so fees are not paid unless there is a reduction in the assessed valuation of the units. As such, unless counsel advises the association that the units seem fairly assessed, there is no good reason for an association not to appeal the assessor's valuation of units.

Q. The husband of a board member has sued the association for damages resulting when he fell on ice in the association's parking lot over the winter. Is it a conflict of interest for the wife to remain on the board while this lawsuit in taking place?

A. No, it is not a conflict of interest. However, the wife should not vote on any matter related to the litigation, but could be counted toward a quorum. Further, she should not be present during any closed session of the board when this matter is being discussed and should not be provided any privileged correspondence from the association's defense counsel.

Q. I know that many associations have trouble finding candidates to run for the board. We have the opposite problem. About 10 people ran for the three open seats of our five-member board. As a result, the persons elected to the board did not receive very many votes. Is there a limit on the number of candidates that can run for the open seats on the board?

A. Yours is an unusual "problem." However, in general there is no limit on the number of owners who can run for the board at any one time. Of course, only one of the co-owners of a particular unit can run for the board at one time.

• David M. Bendoff is an attorney with Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit in Buffalo Grove. Send questions for the column to him at CondoTalk@ksnlaw.com. The firm provides legal service to condominium, townhouse, homeowner associations and housing cooperatives. This column is not a substitute for consultation with legal counsel.

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