It is no secret that the relationship between a tenant and a property manager can be a tumultuous one, with low vacancies and skyrocketing rents adding even more strain.
As a result, some real estate agencies have sought to implement new safety measures to support agents when meeting potentially disgruntled renters.
Adele Crocker, Office Manager & Sales Agent at 360 Property Management Mackay, recently made the decision to fit her staff with body cameras when entering a tenant’s home for a routine inspection.
She told news.com.au that the agency decided to take this step after there was an incident where a renter trapped a young woman inside the property and refused to let her out.
“After this occurred we had a big discussion on safety in the workplace and spoke about how we could all feel safer entering into home of what essentially are strangers,” Ms Crocker said.
“After some collaborative discussion the use of body cameras was decided.”
Once the decision was made, all current tenants were informed that cameras would be used by property managers as part of their PPE equipment.
All new tenants are also advised of the policy at the start of the tenancy.
Staff turn the cameras on at the start of the inspection when they enter the home, after which the footage is uploaded to a “safe data base” and stored for a short period of time.
Ms Crocker said that if no incidents occurred during the visit then the footage is deleted.
“Staff are of course very mindful of tenants privacy during an inspection being carried out,” she added.
After being informed, Ms Crocker said that the vast majority of tenants had a positive reaction to the news that body cameras would be in use.
Some of the responses from renters included that they were “surprised” the agency hadn’t been doing this long ago and that their “safety was important” so they were “more than happy” for this to occur.
However, the office manager did say they had received a handful of written and verbal responses from tenants who weren’t happy about the change, with the main concern being privacy.
Ms Crocker said that, thankfully, no incidents have occurred since staff started wearing the body cameras.
“We have had discussion as a team and wondered if perhaps that if someone was upset, the camera may very well be a visual deterrent to become upset at staff and instead wait until they have left and then perhaps phone with their concerns,” she said.
“I believe any safety equipment that a business implements in a workplace gives staff the feeling of safety.
“We have a lot of younger female staff who need to feel safe and if walking into a strangers home with a camera on gives that feeling of security, with or without incident, then we are doing our job correctly.”
Darren Hutchins, Corporate Director of OBrien Real Estate in Victoria, told news.com.au that, while his organisation has not gone down the body camera path, there are other safety measures in place for their property managers.
“All our property managers have a safety app on their phones. In an instance where they feel there may be conflict or an issue we always advise them to take a support person or other team member to protect their safety,” he explained.
“The safety of our people is paramount from our perspective.”
Mr Hutchins said there have been some instances in the past where agents have had minor issues with tenants, but this is “very rare”.
“Generally a property manager would get a feel for the people they are putting into a property and choose the best applicant possible as to minimise any conflict or issues moving forward,” he said.
Mr Hutchins said it is true that cost of living pressures and having access to rental properties has become a big strain for renters, but “if we show respect to our tenants then mutuality is generally given”.
He said that, while he hadn’t looked into the legal nature of using body cameras during inspections from a privacy perspective, “in certain instances I could see merit in property managers using such technology”.
So, are there any legal implications if a property manager chooses to wear a body camera in a tenants home?
The short answer is: It’s complicated.
Geoff Baldwin, Consultant Lawyer at Stacks Law Firm, told news.com.au that in Australia there is no general “right to privacy” that is enforceable by legislation.
“Under the common law, and again as a broad general principle, there is no legal objection to someone taking a photo/video of anything they can see from where they’re capturing the image; provided they’re in a public place when they do so,” he said, adding there were some minor exceptions.
“If they’re not in a public place, they’ll be somewhere owned by someone (person, company, government department), and the owner/occupier can, at least in theory, prohibit someone on those premises from capturing photographic or video images.”
However, this becomes more complicated when dealing with a situation between a tenant and a property manager who is entering their home for the purpose of an inspection.
In this case, the property manager is an agent, in a legal sense, for the actual homeowner and therefore isn’t just viewed as a member of the public.
Essentially, the situation is a complicated one with a lot of different factors to consider.
“Probably agents aren’t entitled to make covert video recordings, but on the other hand I doubt that a tenant could legitimately deny entry to a camera-wearing agent,” Mr Baldwin said.
This is because in the tenancy agreement there will be a clear contractual obligation for a tent to allow an agent to conduct a rental inspection and “almost certainly” there will be nothing in the agreement to say how that inspection is conducted.
“So my answer to this specific question is that, while using the camera may be out of order and a legitimate source of complaint, a tenant would be on very shaky ground attempting to exclude an inspecting agent on this basis,” he concluded.