HDB approval no longer needed for corridor-facing CCTVs inside flat; demand for devices on the rise
When Ms G (not her real name) had items stolen from her new Housing Board flat that was being renovated in April, she realised that she needed a way to keep watch on her belongings.
When she moved in two months later, she installed a doorbell with a camera outside her home. 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 and installations 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 caught a deliveryman on video allegedly stealing a parcel, which contained 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 the police said that investigations are ongoing. She added that her camera has also caught strangers poking at the mesh on her gate and touching her shoe cabinet just beside her main door as well as her main gate.
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”.
It said that since May, flat owners are no longer required to seek HDB’s approval for the installation of corridor-facing CCTV cameras within their homes. However, it added that such cameras should not face the door or windows of another flat to safeguard their neighbours’ privacy.
HDB also said that the number of CCTV-related complaints had decreased to about 140 cases in 2022, from more than 200 cases a year in 2021 and 2020.
However, to install CCTV cameras outside their homes, HDB dwellers still have to ask for approval.
Lawyer Lionel Tan, a partner at law firm Rajah & Tann, said the general rule by 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) told ST that its approval is needed for both CCTV cameras and doorbell cameras in common areas.
Still, this has not deterred more homeowners seeking to install one.
Mr Derek Peh, sales manager of security-related products company I-Secure Solution, said that his company has seen demand for installation of CCTVs outside homes increase by 5 to 10 per cent in the last year. There has also been an increase of 20 to 25 per cent in demand for CCTV cameras.
He sells about 100 to 200 cameras a month, with 10 per cent needing installation outside homes. He also sells CCTV products even without installation.
Another company, 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, which started in 2003, 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 by others.
Security company HomeSafe Security’s project manager Moses Lew said that victims of loanshark harassment are one of its main groups of clients, who pass the CCTV footage as evidence to police.
However, while security system and solution provider SafeTrolley project manager Dennis Luan said that there was a “noticeable increase” in sales during the pandemic’s work-from-home period, when people were unable to leave their homes to shop, the demand for CCTVs has “remained stable in recent times”.
He added that he receives about 70 to 90 inquiries a month from HDB residents who want to install CCTVs both inside and outside their home.
Similarly, a spokesman for AMKTC said that it has not seen 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 usage 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 protect their belongings.
The installation of a CCTV camera overlooking the corridor outside her home helped Ms Lee, 50, to 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 revealed that hornbills were eating from her plants.
Ms Lee, who is self-employed, said that she has not received any complaints about the CCTV and that her immediate neighbour was agreeable to it. “The intention is to protect our family and not to spy on neighbours.”
Lawyers said that CCTV footage is useful in court as evidence.
While Mr Tan from law firm Rajah & Tann noted that neighbours’ privacy may 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 an 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 in June.
Permission to install CCTV cameras
Sellers said while they do not help with the application to install CCTV cameras outside their clients’ homes, they do check with customers to ensure that the home owner has permission to do so.
Surveillance Zone Singapore’s Mr Tan said: “If they do not, we would 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, you can get into trouble if you do not have permission to install them.
Mr Tan from Rajah & Tann said that 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, such unreasonable surveillance even from within one’s own home may be subjected to 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 through theft of soft copies stored in any storage devices or over wireless connection being intercepted 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.”