HDB approval no longer needed for corridor-facing CCTVs in flats; demand for devices up
SINGAPORE - When Ms G (not her real name) found that items had been stolen from her new Housing Board flat in April, she wanted to find a way to monitor what went on outside her unit.
The items were stolen during renovations and when she moved in two months later, she installed a doorbell with a camera.
She is not alone.
Sellers have told The Straits Times that the demand for closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and other surveillance devices like doorbell cams outside HDB flats is rising. Online legal resource Singapore Legal Advice said that doorbells offering video recording functions are also considered CCTV cameras.
In July, Ms G’s doorbell cam recorded a deliveryman allegedly stealing a parcel containing two laptop mats. She uploaded the 27-second video on TikTok, and it chalked up more than 594,000 views.
Ms G, who is in her 20s and in the marketing industry, made a police report and investigations are ongoing. She said her camera has also recorded strangers poking at the mesh on her gate and touching her shoe cabinet just beside her main door.
In response to ST’s queries, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) noted that “with advancement in technology, there is now a proliferation of CCTV-like devices such as smart-door devices and miniature cameras”. It added that these “are less intrusive than CCTV cameras and ... flat owners can easily install (them) within their flat or on their front door”.
HDB said that since May, flat owners are no longer required to seek its approval to install corridor-facing CCTV cameras within their homes. However, such cameras should not face the door or windows of another flat to safeguard the privacy of neighbours.
HDB dwellers are still required to ask for approval if they want to install CCTV cameras outside their flats, but that has not deterred homeowners.
Mr Derek Peh, sales manager of security-related products company I-Secure Solution, said it has seen demand for installation of CCTVs outside homes increase by 5 per cent to 10 per cent in the last year. There has also been an increase of 20 per cent to 25 per cent in demand for CCTV cameras.
He sells about 100 to 200 cameras a month, with 10 per cent being installed outside homes. He also sells CCTV products without installation.
HDB noted that the number of CCTV-related complaints decreased to about 140 cases in 2022, from more than 200 cases a year in 2021 and 2020.
Lawyer Lionel Tan, a partner at law firm Rajah & Tann, said the general rule of town councils is that written authorisation is required for the installation of CCTV cameras on common property including walls outside a flat or open spaces, though there might be slight variations in the by-laws across different town councils.
A spokesman for Ang Mo Kio Town Council (AMKTC) said its approval is needed for both CCTV cameras and doorbell cameras in common areas.
Surveillance Zone Singapore has also enjoyed an uptick in the demand for CCTV products.
Mr Tan Yi Chong, who oversees its business development, said the sale of CCTVs for use outside homes has increased by about 33 per cent, from 20 a month in 2021 to 30 a month this year. His company sells about 150 to 200 CCTV cameras a month for residential use.
Sellers say customers usually install CCTV cameras outside their homes owing to theft, disputes with neighbours or harassment.
HomeSafe Security’s project manager Moses Lew said victims of loanshark harassment are one of its main groups of clients, who pass on the CCTV footage to police as evidence.
Mr Dennis Luan, project manager at security systems and solutions provider SafeTrolley, said there was a “noticeable increase” in sales during the pandemic’s work-from-home period, but demand for CCTVs has “remained stable in recent times”.
He receives about 70 to 90 inquiries a month from HDB residents who want to install CCTVs both inside and outside their home.
Similarly, the spokesman for AMKTC said there has not been a “notable rise” in the number of applications for CCTV installations outside flats. He added that the town council has received a “relatively low” number of complaints about the use or installation of CCTVs in the past three years.
ST contacted nine other town councils but did not get a response.
Residents point out that CCTV cameras are a necessary tool to guard against theft and harassment, for example.
The installation of a CCTV camera overlooking the corridor outside her home helped Ms Lee, 50, find out who stole her flower pots, pot hangers and pandan leaves in 2020 and 2021.
After she installed a camera near the window of her living room inside her flat in 2021, she learnt that a neighbour had taken her flower pots and pot hangers and gave her a warning.
The mystery of her missing mulberries was also unravelled by the CCTV camera which recorded hornbills picking at her plants and eating them.
Ms Lee, who is self-employed, said she has not received any complaints about the CCTV camera. Her immediate neighbour was actually agreeable to it, and Ms Lee added: “The intention is to protect our family and not to spy on neighbours.”
Lawyers said CCTV footage is useful in court as evidence.
While Mr Tan from Rajah & Tann noted that neighbours’ privacy could be an issue, he said: “It does make sense for a CCTV camera to be installed where there are potential cases of crime or harassment in the vicinity.
“CCTV cameras are very useful as they can capture evidence of wrongdoing which can lead to the apprehension of offenders and can serve as deterrence against loan sharks or other offenders.”
In July, a man was reportedly caught on camera stealing a pair of Vans shoes in Teck Whye. A police report was made and investigations are ongoing.
In December 2022, a CCTV camera caught a 10-year-old boy flinging a community cat off the 22nd storey of a HDB block in Boon Lay and the video was widely circulated on social media. A police report was made and the matter was investigated by Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS).
On July 28, it was revealed that the boy had been issued a stern warning by AVS and had also undergone a month-long guidance programme.
Permission to install CCTV cameras
Sellers said that while they do not help with the application to install CCTV cameras outside the homes of clients, they do check that the home owners have permission to do so.
Surveillance Zone Singapore’s Mr Tan said: “If they do not, we advise them to seek permission with the relevant agency before proceeding with the installation.”
However, he noted that customers can buy CCTV cameras without asking for them to be installed.
Mr Lew from HomeSafe Security said that the onus is on the customer to seek approval from the authorities and that the company reminds customers that the town council retains the right to have the cameras removed.
Experts cautioned that while there are upsides to installing CCTV cameras, there could be trouble if approval is not sought to install them.
Mr Tan from Rajah & Tann said some town councils, like those at Chua Chu Kang and Marsiling-Yew Tee, have by-laws that state that if the owner fails to comply with the notice to remove any fixture, structure or object – which includes CCTV cameras – that is on common property or open space without permission, town councils have the right to remove it and repair the area before recovering the costs from its owner.
Neighbours unhappy with the presence of such recording devices can also complain through the Community Disputes Resolution Act, which prohibits individuals from causing “unreasonable interference” with their neighbour’s use and enjoyment of their place of residence including conducting surveillance on the neighbour’s property, said Mr Tan, adding that this may apply even if the CCTV camera is inside the home.
Lawyer Cory Wong from Invictus Law Corporation said that in some cases, surveillance even from within one’s own home could be deemed as unreasonable and regarded as harassment or stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act.
Privacy experts also warned that third parties can hack CCTV devices or steal CCTV data, thus putting persons who collect the data, and their neighbours, at risk.
Mr Kevin Shepherdson, chief executive of Singapore-based data privacy specialist Straits Interactive, said: “If hacked, the CCTV camera can be used to track the occupants of the home and perhaps lead to a break-in when nobody is at the residence.
“The CCTV camera could be part of a vulnerable wireless connection that can be used to gain access to a network, which can lead to a cyber attack.”
CCTV data can also be stolen by appropriating soft copies stored in any storage devices, or over wireless connection by hackers, he added.
Given the generative artificial intelligence easily available these days, the stolen footage can then be easily used to create deep fake videos for mischief in a short period of time, he said.
Nevertheless, some still believe the benefits of having such cameras outweigh the risks.
Said Ms G: “Even though it’s not exactly legal to install a CCTV camera outside our door, this theft incident has shown us that it can be useful in helping to track down culprits.”
Cue. (2023m, August 5). HDB approval no longer needed for corridor-facing CCTVs in flats; demand for devices up. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/hdb-approval-no-longer-needed-for-corridor-facing-cctvs-in-flats-demand-for-devices-on-the-rise?utm_source=emarsys&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ST_Newsletter_AM&utm_term=HDB+approval+no+longer+needed+for+corridor-facing+CCTVs+in+flats%3B+demand+for+devices+up&utm_content=05%2F08%2F2023