In a time where it seems everyone has a ring doorbell, nanny-cam, echo dot, Google home system, fancy baby monitor, (you name it!), it’s very relevant to discuss what can and cannot be recorded when showing your home. As a buyer, this blog will let you know what to look out for and be mindful of when you’re out shopping for a new home. And as a seller, this will lay out the laws behind what you can and cannot do regarding the video/audio equipment in your home when others are inside.
Let’s first dive into the law! You all know I’m not the type of lawyer to just spout out statutes and talk over your head. We’ll keep it simple. First, it is important to understand that every state has different guidelines and laws in place regarding video and audio surveillance. The Federal Laws set a good baseline, known as the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (“Omnibus Act”), and Federal Statute 18 USC § 2511. The Omnibus Act was created to protect an individual’s right to privacy. Title III of the Act speaks to electronic communications and the interceptions of oral communications. The Federal Statute makes it unlawful for anyone to “intentionally intercept any wire, oral or electronic communication.” The Federal Statue is criminal, meaning a violation could result in jail time, up to 5 years in prison. Since we’re in North Carolina, let’s focus on what North Carolina law says. North Carolina General Statutes §§15A-286, et al. make up our Electronic Surveillance Act which is quite similar to the provisions found in the Omnibus Act. In North Carolina, violation of this statute is also criminal, a class H felony to be specific. It is important to note that in North Carolina, it is only a violation of the statute when one party to the communication has not consented. This means if you and I are chatting, and I know that I’m recording it, but you don’t, that is enough. North Carolina case law also interpreted both the Federal and State Statutes referenced above in a Court of Appeals case named Kroh v. Kroh. This case clarified that it is not the videotaping that violates the law and someone’s privacy, it’s the audio recording. As a caveat, it’s only videotaping in places one doesn’t expect an inherent right to privacy, like a bathroom.
Now that we know the law, what do we do with it? As a seller, it’s natural to worry about the things in your home when strangers are walking around inside and concern over theft and damage. For that piece of mind, you can video and keep your “smart home” products active. However, you MUST turn off the audio, and the video cameras cannot be in places like a bathroom, or somewhere one would expect a certain level of privacy. Even though it is your home, a person still has a right to privacy in your bathroom, so don’t be weird and put cameras in there. No matter how much you’d love to know what the people who are looking at your home have to say about it, remember that any attempt to gain confidential information from audio equipment could result in criminal or civil liability and is not worth it.
As a buyer, I’ll just plainly state it. Expect you’re being videoed, recorded, and watched at all times when you’re at a showing. We know from the above information that it is not illegal to have cameras and video surveillance in your home. Even though it is illegal to record or listen to conversations, do your best to keep any conversations between you and your real estate agent, or spouse, or whomever you’re at a showing with, vague and not anything you’d want kept confidential. It’s best to protect yourself as much as possible so you’re not in a position to need the protections of the laws.
I personally understand the human nature struggles of wanting to know what is going on in your home when you’re selling, and when buying getting overly excited yelling out, “I love this house!” right in front of a ring doorbell. Remember buying and selling though very personal, is still a business transaction. Go into it with that mindset and it may save you a lot of trouble!
With this knowledge, now you can Rest Easy.