Hamilton students angry after owner installed two cameras inside their home

Living with seven other McMaster University students in a house in West Hamilton, Joseph LaRiver feels comfortable with the common spaces. But no one is watching him.

The 20-year-old was recently trapped in a months-long battle with his homeowner after two surveillance cameras were installed without warning inside his West Park Avenue rental home.

The cameras, one in the front hallway and one in the kitchen, were added this summer as owner Henry Huang said the Spectator was an attempt to protect his properties and tenants from intruders.

But LaRiver saw it differently.

He said of the cameras a “complete breach of privacy,” and at least one of them recorded an audio. “When you’re inside a house that’s meant to be a private place, and are able to listen and watch everything you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like home anymore.”

Joseph LaRiver, a 20-year-old tenant in a student house near McMaster University, says the property owner installed surveillance cameras inside his unit earlier this summer. Cameras, one in the kitchen and one in the front hall above the refrigerator, record video and audio, and the owner said he would kick the students out if they kept dropping them off. Indoor cameras have since been removed.Hamilton Spectator

For several months, dozens of attempts by Lariviere to remove the cameras were denied, and even led to threats of eviction. Then, last week, the cameras suddenly disappeared, but only after The Spectator reached out to Hoang about his actions.

“If someone comes in or breaks in, don’t blame me for not warning (the tenants) because it’s for their safety,” Huang said in an email to The Spectator. last week. “I will ask my buddies to remove (the cameras) today if that is your concern.”

Lariviere noticed the first camera hanging over the front hall in May. Shocked and upset, he asked to be removed. Hwang refused.

“He also told me to go out if I didn’t like it,” Larriviere said of Hoang, a claim supported by his texting exchange with The Spectator.

The camera captured any situation where someone entered or exited the house. It also picked up the sound, as evidenced by a video Hoang Lariviere sent when the latter forgot to lock the door while leaving for work once.

Fearing that a fraught relationship with Huang might jeopardize his lease—and with all of his housemates gone in the summer—Lariviere left the problem alone.

But in early August as his classmates returned home for the school year, he noticed a second camera installed in the house. This was in the kitchen, a place frequented by the tenants often.

“We use this space all the time. We cook there, we eat there, we talk there,” said LaRiver, who lives with his girlfriend and six of her friends. “All my housemates were shocked.”

As Hoang repeatedly held back his requests to remove the cameras, tired Lariviere adopted a new strategy: remove them himself.

“Every morning before I left for work at six in the morning, I would take them out,” he said. “But every time I come home from work, they’ve been there, coming back and working.”

In the end, LaRiver said that he abandoned the fruitless stunt after receiving a stern warning from Huang.

“Hi Joseph, if you are not happy with the camera and the safety of the property and others who graduated from it,” reads a text Hoang sent to Lariviere on August 31. “Don’t touch the camera again! I mean it.”

Hoang did not take questions from The Spectator regarding threats to fire Lariviere.

While he was glad the cameras were now gone, LaRiver said the ordeal had left him shaky. He said he and his housemates respect where they live and pay the rent on time. He feels his privacy concerns should have been heard from the start.

“It was really weird how stubborn he was with us, so rude and almost cheerful, and then as soon as I[the viewer]emailed him, the tables suddenly turned,” said Larvier. “It shouldn’t have gone that far.”

What does the law say?

It’s weird, weird, and borderline voyeurs, but are surveillance cameras in private rental spaces illegal?

In part, said Ryan Hardy, an attorney with the Tenant Advocacy Center of Ontario (ACTO).

“Sure, the thought of living in a parental controlled environment is paternalistic and unpleasant…but the law about cameras is a bit confusing.”

Hardy explained that when it comes to a tenant’s privacy rights, the Residential Rental Act does not include clear legislation specific to cameras in private spaces, and instead focuses more on landlord entries.

“Although the act we did goes back to 2006, its origins lie in the 1970s when these problems didn’t really exist,” he said.

However, cameras in or around private units are generally considered illegal unless the owner has a real reason to install them.

For example, if the owner installs cameras on a back porch that faces a lot of where cars have been broken into, “it’s easy to pinpoint the purpose,” Hardy said. On the other hand, if the owner installs the cameras somewhere like the kitchen – as Lariviere tested – “it’s hard to understand and the edges are unfounded.

“If I had been the tenants in[Larivier’s]situation, I would have gotten legal advice,” Hardy said. Because clearly what this owner is doing is extraordinary. If he says he has good intentions, why is this so uncommon? “