Are You Being Watched?
With the advances in technology that we have witnessed over the past few decades, it is no surprise that many buyers are now faced with the prospect that they may be under surveillance when viewing houses. Whether it’s a baby monitor, a Ring doorbell system, or an advanced security setup, sellers are arming themselves with safety cameras that may also be used to listen in on buyers during a showing. But what does the law say?
According to both Federal law and the Texas Penal Code, audio recordings are prohibited without the consent of at least one party who is actively engaged in the conversation. As a seller, that means you are within your rights to make an audio recording of an interview with a potential listing agent, because you are involved in the conversation and aware that the conversation is being recorded.
What you cannot do as a seller is capture an audio recording (with or without video) of a buyer who is looking at your property, because you are not engaged in the conversation and the buyer is not aware that he or she is being filmed. So despite the fact that a buyer is in your home and discussing your property, it is illegal for you to record the conversation unless you are present and actively participating in the showing.
But what about video without audio? The law treats that slightly differently. Homeowners are within their rights to take video-only recordings inside their own home, as long as the cameras are not placed in areas where a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in a bathroom.
As a seller, it is important to be aware of the law as there can be strict criminal penalties involved. In Texas, illegal recording is a felony offense and someone who feels they have been recorded in violation of the law can bring a civil suit to recover damages, which may include $10,000 for each occurrence, actual damages, punitive damages, and costs associated with bringing the suit.
As a buyer, it is also important to know your rights. And important to remember that video-only recordings are legal, and a lot can be interpreted from body language. So it is probably best to keep all conversations about a house to a minimum until you are back in the car.