So you are a landlord and you are thinking about some security cameras for your apartment building. Maybe you are having issues with vandalism, vagrants, break-ins, or other issues. Installing cameras may be an excellent way to both figure out what is going on (ie: who is causing the issues) and as a deterrent. Here are some tips and tricks on how to purchase, install and use cameras at your apartment building:
Note: Please check your state laws or ordinances on legality and any signage requirements prior to purchase and install. Especially be aware that most cameras now come with built-in microphones. Most states outlaw recording conversations without consent-turn this off!
When Your Need Cameras
We only install cameras on a larger (4+ unit) buildings. We often make this decision when we are having recurring issues that we just can’t solve or identify the problem. This might be vandalism, break ins, theft, leaving doors propped open, vagrants sleeping it the hallway, etc. Despite walking the building daily or weekly, these problems can be difficult to catch. Often they happen in the middle of the night or the offense is over in a couple minutes. Having cameras in your apartment building can also solve the issue that no other tenants want to be the snitch.
Where to Source Cameras
You can purchase camera systems from Costco, Amazon and even your local cable provider will try to sell you some security system. I have tried them all. My opinion is to use Lorex (no, I am not getting paid for this plug!). They have solid equipment, this is all they do, their tech support is pretty good, and their gear is easy to install. They seem to have sales about every other month (especially around holidays and end of year). Wait for that and purchase one then.
What Type of Camera System to Purchase
Many of the older and cheaper systems require special cables that feed both signal and power to the camera similar to old school cable boxes. This can make install very difficult especially if you have long runs. Also the ends of the cables are not removable so you have to fit this huge cable end through holes or pipes. Purchase a system based around IP that uses CAT5 cables. These are the same type of network cables that your computer uses. While Lorex will send you a 100 foot cable with each camera, maybe you need to go further (such as from the basement to the roof). You can simply by a 250′ roll of CAT 5 and attach new ends once you finish mounting the camera.
Types of Cameras to Purchase
There are 2 primary sizes of cameras: bullet and dome. They have the same specifications but one will often mount better in situations than others. I like the dome as they are easier to hide and look nicer, but it is up to you. Within those sizes, the cameras can have many different features such as advanced motion, color night time mode, facial recognition, and many more. This is ever changing and you should review the options. I tend to like a mix of cameras as the standard models work fine for hallways, but the night mode with more frames per second are a necessary feature for exterior lower-light areas watching exterior doors.
What about the Fake Cameras?
Yes, I have tried those $15 plastic fake cameras from Amazon that have the red light on them. I am not convinced that they do much. They can be handy for remote areas such as garages where it would not be easy to run a cable to. But remember, that many criminals know what a fake camera looks like!
Where to Install Cameras in your Apartment Building
It would be great to have 100% coverage of your building where you could read a newspaper from any camera. That is probably too expensive and not practical. In general, here is where you should have cameras:
- Immediately inside each building door
- Each end of any hallway
- Laundry room
- Exterior showing both front door and front sidewalk
- Backdoor showing both back door and back parking lot
So on an apartment building that has 3 floors (basement plus 2 floors) and just front and back door, this would require 2 x each floor=6 + front door interior+ back door interior + front door exterior + back door exterior + laundry=11 cameras
Yes, that seems like a lot. It will require you to purchase a 16 channel device (versus an 8 channel). But this should give you plenty of coverage plus some expansion opportunity if you need to add more cameras.
Example of Why You Need This Many Cameras
You get reports that a vagrant was sleeping in the laundry room last night. You want to figure out how they got in and if they did anything else in the building. Here is how I would use the cameras:
- Use laundry camera to find vagrant, figure out what time he came into the laundry
- Open the camera in the hallway outside the laundry and rewind to a couple minutes before he entered laundry. Where did he come from? Maybe from down the stairs.
- Open the camera immediately inside that building door. Does the person come from outside or did he come come down the stairs from one of the floors with units?
- If he came from outside, pull up exterior cameras. Did he pry the lock open? Did someone let him in? Did he piggyback on someone coming in?
- If he came from upstairs, what unit did he come from?
See how having enough coverage can allow you to do the investigation completely?
What About Camera Storage and Playback?
In my experience, a 3TB unit can store about 6 days worth of recordings using 8 cameras. This is with all non-movement time on the tape (we are not setting cameras up to only record when movement is detected)-so obviously turning that on could dramatically increase the amount of storage. To view the cameras at many apartment buildings, I order a simple an internet line for $45/month so I can connect to the cameras from anywhere in the world. It is super helpful to be able to get a call from a tenant for a problem and immediately pull up the cameras to see what happened versus having to drive to building and sit in basement and review.
The price and ease of use has come down dramatically in the last couple years on camera systems. It is worth looking at for your apartment building if you are having issues that you just can resolve.