When searching for an apartment online we're primed to be on the lookout for red flags: listings that look too good to be true, hidden fees, and sketchy landlords or roommates.
Sometimes though, it can be difficult to parse the difference between a red flag and something illegal.
For instance, a recent Facebook Marketplace post listed a room for rent near Joyce-Collingwood for $900 all utilities, WiFi, and laundry included. But near the end of the post would-be renters will read: "house rules and cameras in common area in place."
However, the listing prompts an important question: Can landlords or roommates put up cameras in common areas in British Columbia?
Tenants have a right to reasonable privacy says Robert Patterson, a legal advocate and lawyer at the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC), and therefore arguments could be made that cameras are a breach of that right. However, there are a few catches since it's not technically illegal.
In fact, cameras in common areas of shared buildings are entirely legal according to Vancouver criminal lawyer Kyla Lee.
"They are often used for security and building safety purposes, as well as accountability for any tenants who are causing problems in or damaging common areas," she says. "There are no prohibitions on this."
Landlords are permitted to install cameras in common areas provided they are "open and notorious" and not surreptitiously recording residents. Common areas in a condo/apartment-style building can include the hallways, elevators, lobby, and any recreational spaces. However, Lee says that living rooms and kitchens within rental units would also be considered acceptable so long as the tenant is aware and the camera is not pointed at any space where "a person could reasonably be expected to be nude" which would violate voyeurism laws.
"In Canada, we have one-party consent for recording but in a living space, there's a reasonable expectation of privacy so tenants should be put on notice," she says.
The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) has published guidance documents that inform citizens of B.C.'s access and privacy laws and in one such document, Patterson says the OIPC outlines that consent is required to put up a camera and a landlord must be able to prove what kind of information they are collecting and why.
Roommates vs landlords
Roommates, on the other hand, could theoretically have cameras in common areas but Lee says the rules are less clear because they aren't the owner of the space and "consequently have less authority."
"A roommate who is not a subletter could be challenged on the cameras, but if you are subletting a room then you would have greater authority to do it," she explains.
Similarly, roommate disputes over cameras can't go through the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) and must appear before the court system whereas re-renting and subletter situations may be RTB applicable.