What to do about my roommate's surveillance camera?
February 4, 2014 9:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently living in a small apartment with two bedrooms and one roommate. My roommate has exhibited some odd behavior in the past, but in the last week things have gotten weird. Help me negotiate this situation. Details inside.

I've lived with this guy at this apartment for a little over a year, plus a year in our university's dorms. We've never been great friends, but we generally got along pretty well until last summer. I don't know what happened, but things got pretty passive aggressive for awhile. I was annoyed that he never cleaned anything, we had a bit of a falling out, and we really have only interacted sporadically since then. He spends most of his time holed up in his room, so we don't see much of each other.

He's always come across as a bit paranoid. Last summer he purchased a massive safe (think Italian Job-size), and he habitually locks the door with the hotel lock when I'm out late on weekends. This has been frustrating, as I'll arrive back at my apartment early in the morning and be unable to get inside.

Fast forward to this week. I noticed something funny about our internet the other day. His router usually broadcasts two bands, a 2.4GHz and a 5GHz. The 5GHz is obviously much faster, and was my default network. It stopped showing up a few days ago. I asked him about it, and he gave an evasive answer about how everything looked fine to him. Then, I noticed a new network named "[hisname]CAMERA." Weird, I thought.

The same day, I had to run into his room to grab a new roll of paper towels, and while I was leaving, a small light caught my eye. Further inspection revealed that he had installed a surveillance camera in his bedroom. I found this very strange. In the year that we've lived here, there haven't been any break-ins in any apartments. Furthermore, it appears that he has locked up the 5GHz network just for use by his camera, leaving me with ridiculously slow internet. (Side note: I also have some concerns that he might be monitoring my internet usage, but I'm working on handling that separately.)

This morning, I woke up, walked out of my room, and noticed that his door was open down the hallway. His door is never open unless he's home. Then I saw that he had moved the surveillance camera and it was now pointing down the hallway directly at my door, though still mounted in his room. This freaked me out. I shut his door immediately.

What would you do about this? Quite honestly, I don't feel very safe. In the last few months, I've started locking my bedroom door at night. I'd really like to feel comfortable in my apartment.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:52 AM on February 4, 2014 [59 favorites]

My first instinct is to tell you to move. This is weird behavior and would creep me out completely.
posted by bedhead at 9:52 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just move! If your roommate is dealing with mental illness or something, you're not the one responsible for his well-being.
posted by theraflu at 9:53 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd move. Wanting to feel comfortable where you live is totally reasonable, and if you can't get that where you are, and you're not in a position to make him move, then you have to move.
posted by rtha at 9:53 AM on February 4, 2014


You're not going to ever feel comfortable in your apartment because your roommate is a crazy person. The specific hows and whys and whathaveyous of his particular brand of not making you feel comfortable are irrelevant.

You will have to move.
posted by phunniemee at 9:53 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by holgate at 9:53 AM on February 4, 2014

What would you do about this?

Leave, as soon as possible. This doesn't seem like the kind of person you can reason with, and both the regularly locking you out (??!) and any surveillance of common areas (or internet use), even if just suspected, are unambiguous dealbreakers.
posted by randomnity at 9:54 AM on February 4, 2014

N'thing moving out. Escalating with this sort of a person will probably not end well.
posted by Aleyn at 9:57 AM on February 4, 2014

I would move and I would call the police and ask for some advice, in case your roommate escalates.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:57 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Hey, roommate? We need to talk about this surveillance camera. For one thing, I don't feel comfortable with it pointed at my door. Is there a reason you have it set up that way? Also, this camera is hogging all the bandwidth. Since we pay equally for internet access, you're going to have to either find a less data-intense setup or get rid of the camera. Also please stop locking me out of the apartment."

In other words, I don't really understand why you haven't brought any of this stuff up with your roommate.

Though I agree with the consensus that you could always move. It really depends on what you want in this situation -- faster internet and a camera not pointed at your room, or to not live with this guy.
posted by Sara C. at 9:59 AM on February 4, 2014 [23 favorites]

From the OP:
"Thanks all. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that leaving is an option at the moment. My lease ends in July, at which point I'll be relocating to another part of the country. I don't know that my landlord would break my lease without me incurring a large fee, which is not feasible at the moment. That being said, the landlord seems to like me, as I've referred several people to him in the past. So he might be willing to work with me."
posted by jessamyn at 10:02 AM on February 4, 2014

First talk to the roommate, per Sara C.'s script. If that doesn't end the problem, talk to your landlord, who may be willing to ask him to leave so as not to lose you and him (if he can't make the rent on his own). If that doesn't end the problem, tell your landlord that you can't live like this and that you need to break the lease free and clear. Give the landlord and the roommate a little time (no more than a month) to find a new roommate to assume your half, and then walk.
posted by Etrigan at 10:08 AM on February 4, 2014

Try your landlord! I'd skip talking to your housemate any more about this. Maybe tell your landlord the truth - that your roommate is showing symptoms of paranoia and poor mental health, and/or your roommate is up to something that actually merits this degree of security. That would be worse, IMHO. Poor mental health is the good scenario here.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 10:12 AM on February 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

You have to move. What are the potential reasons someone would have a surveillance camera set up in their bedroom?
1. doing something illegal
2. is crazily paranoid
3. ??
There is nothing rational that explains his behavior and from an outside perspective he sounds like he's becoming more and more unhinged. You need to get out of this situation even if it costs you money.
posted by something something at 10:12 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

His behavior is grounds for breaking the lease, but only if you can show what's going on. Document. Photograph the camera, document the lockouts, email it to yourself using https: connections. Talk to Roomie: I'm concerned about you. The camera is an invasion of my privacy, you consistently lock me out. What's going on? How can we resolve this and still be friends? Talk to Roomie's family, explain that his behavior is increasingly difficult, and that you are concerned.

Landlord may want Roomie to move, but you may be able to persuade Landlord that Roomie is a better long-term tenant, as you will be leaving.

It gets recommended a lot, for good reason. The Gift of Fear. Your instincts are telling you the guy is unsafe, you need to assess the risk, and take appropriate action.
posted by theora55 at 10:12 AM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Have you asked him what's going on?

I mean, yeah, the obvious answer is "move out." But it sounds like you've taken that off the table until July, so... talk to the guy? Ask him what's up? Even if he doesn't tell you, HOW he answers should give you more information than you have right now.

On the locking front, does his room have a hotel bar? Maybe he'd be less likely to lock the main door if his room had a decent deadbolt/chain/whatever.

You mention that you've referred a few folks to your landlord -- do any of them live in wifi range, and if so, would they be willing to share for a prorated payment? That might solve your internet issues.
posted by pie ninja at 10:13 AM on February 4, 2014

If you escalate with him, I think you have to be prepared to move, because it could make things worse. And if you're prepared to move, you might as well just do it, because this guy sounds like nothing but trouble.

If you really feel like you can't move (I would say you could see if you could find someone else to take over your lease, but that would be kind of a dick move to stick them with this guy), you might be best off just spending as little time as possible in the apartment until July. Take a second job, visit friends at the weekends, that kind of thing.
posted by mskyle at 10:14 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd work with both the landlord and your roommate and see if you can move into a 5/6 month sublet.

I'd lay it out on the table with your roommate, "I've noticed that you've installed a surveillance camera and frankly it makes me uneasy. I feel like I've done nothing to warrant suspicion from you, and it's an invasion of my privacy. Is there a reason you feel the need to do this?"

See what he says, if it's paranoid screed, then say, "None of that is true. I don't feel safe here anymore. I'd like to break the lease and move, what do you think of that idea?"

If you don't get a violent vibe off of him, then a conversation won't hurt anything, if you do feel that he may be violent, don't dick around, just leave.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:18 AM on February 4, 2014

You don't feel safe in your apartment.

Sara C.'s script is great. If you don't feel safe enough around this guy to have that conversation, then you absolutely have to move.
posted by inertia at 10:20 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Inquire with your landlord if s/he possibly has a 1br that your lease could be transitioned to. Definitely bring up that your roommate is scaring you, and they're locking you out of the apartment. Inquire on getting the landlord to insist to the roommate that the "hotel lock" be removed.

If you're locked out via the hotel lock, keep knocking loud - wake him up - inconvenience him. And then take that lock off the door. Ideally let your roommate know about this plan before it has a chance to happen again. Give your roommate the lock after it's off; suggest he put it on his bedroom door.

You're going into his room while he's not there? WTF? I'm assuming that you both are OK with this (re: to get paper towels), but if he's setting up webcams, etc maybe he's really not all right with this. Work out some method of storage of common things so you never need to go in his room, and he never goes into yours. Good fences make good neighbors, and good doors (possibly with keyed locks) make good roommates.

Definitely address the webcam - it should not be recording the common spaces unless you have agreed to it. I'd also suggest checking for wireless camera's in the common spaces that you might not have seen. At this point, even if I didn't see the camera, close his door anytime it's open and he's not around.

Suggest to your roommmate what you feel it's unfair that part of the network is dedicated for his webcam(s), and potential monitoring of the internet. Suggest that you should only pay 25% (or what you feel is fair) of the total bill unless the restrictions are lifted, and you have full admin rights on any network equipment. Regardless, sign up for a VPN service (I use privateinternetaccess.com) and use this at home.
posted by nobeagle at 10:28 AM on February 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

AFTER you've moved...

and IF you're feeling benevolent...

you could give his parents or campus services a heads up about this behavior so they can get him some help.

But move out first. Lie if ya gotta. Twist arms. Play up the helpless scared angle. Couch surf in the interim. There is nothing tying you here but your own mind right now.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:29 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's some good advice above. Also, he should remove the hotel bar lock. It's not acceptable for him to lock you out of your own home. He can put it on his bedroom door if he wants to (as long as the landlord is OK with him drilling into the door/frame).
posted by quince at 10:56 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

You did notice the camera because you were in his room. Maybe he's just supremely passive aggressive and the camera pointed at the door means "stay out of my room."

Safes and security cameras are weird but not necessarily super weird. It's a huge market and I know a number of harmless weirdos who love messing around with that stuff.

The bigger issue here is that you and your roommate have really bad communication issues. You can either work on communication or move out.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 10:58 AM on February 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

I am not a doctor, tinma, etc, but if he is genuinely clinically paranoid there is a chance he may be violent, or become violent over something non-paranoid people would consider inconsequential or not worthy of violence. Not sure how much you should weight that concern, but I do feel it is worthy of mentioning the possibility.
posted by Jacen at 11:08 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

What's the residential tenancy act like in your area? It sounds like your landlord is decent so if you take it up with them, don't bring legalese into it immediately; but if they don't want to let you out of your lease, there might be help in the act/code/whatever. You might look for stuff concerning:

- The right to have access to your residence (re: the hotel bar lock)

- The right to not have your reasonable enjoyment of your residence interfered with (re: the surveillance)

IMNAL, but that's one resource I'd be checking in your situation. The law is usually mostly about the obligations of the landlord to the tenant and vice versa, but if you notify the landlord about what's going on, to some degree you can make it the landlord's problem and maybe bring the situation under the purview of the law through the back door.
posted by Beardman at 11:17 AM on February 4, 2014

Install your own camera, cold war style.

(move out)
posted by angerbot at 11:19 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

If someone is acting this way, they aren't going to stop because you take away a certain outlet. I would worry if you call him out you could seen an escalation in paranoia. This is a situation where I would want to minimize communication with him and work with your landlord as much as possible.
posted by Aranquis at 11:21 AM on February 4, 2014

Are you still a student? If so, contact Student Affairs. They usually have a person who can advise you on your situation.

My city also has a tenant rights board that will assist.
posted by futz at 11:22 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, try to communicate with your roommate via email so that everything is documented.
posted by futz at 11:24 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Install your own camera, cold war style.

This is really funny.

But yeah don't do this.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:34 AM on February 4, 2014

Maybe the dude doesn't trust you. Which seems pretty darned mutual.

I don't doubt this is a drag for you, but this just seems like some assorted bits of various weird behavior (and everyone has SOME weird shit, at least in my experience) that you're assembling into something bigger.

The hotel bar/door chain thing? That would irritate the shit out of me, but that's reflective of how low a priority that sort of thing is for me. My wife throws the bolt on our door just by default. Doesn't matter that I'm walking in and out on a weekend day; she's wired to secure things. Irritates the shit out of me and it's massively inconvenient. But it's not about trying to keep me out, it's her default security mindset.

The safe? Who the hell knows. Seems weird to me too. But maybe he just always wanted a big crazy-ass Scrooge McDuck safe. Maybe he has some large things he really cares about that he wants to secure. The camera? Wireless cameras are fun to goof with.

Or maybe it's all revolving around not trusting you and fucking with your head. But from out here, reading your description? Sounds like two people who don't really get along, don't know anything about each other's lives, don't communicate. He could be locking you out on purpose or just have no idea about your comings and goings. He could be pointing the camera out of mistrust of you or it could have nothing to do with you. Changing around the network could be something he did while goofing with his toy and he didn't think it would matter to you at all or maybe he didn't even understand what he was doing. Maybe he really is feeling unsafe and insecure but it's because he's reading the wrong newspapers and it has nothing to do with you.

I guess I'd be less likely to view this as totally uncertain without this internet thing. You think he's monitoring your internet usage? Based on.... what? A switch from 5ghz to 2.4ghz is by no means a drop down to "ridiculously slow"- it's unlikely you're getting 54mb from your provider anyway, much less twice that.

I don't doubt you want to be comfortable in your own home; I bet your roommate feels the same way, thus why he "spends most of his time holed up in his room" where he doesn't have to interact with you. You two either need to fix this communications & trust problem or not be sharing space. You SURE should not be storing communal property like paper towels in each other's private spaces given this level of conflict.

Talk it out or move. This minimal contact thing is clearly not working for you.
posted by phearlez at 11:40 AM on February 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

Talk it out or move. This minimal contact thing is clearly not working for you.

He is being kept under surveillance. Seems like an uncomfortable amount of contact to me.
posted by futz at 11:59 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there something else down the hall towards your room? Like if someone were entering the apartment, would they pass your room on the way to his? If so, perhaps he isn't paranoid about *you* but about who else may be entering the apartment in his absence. The safe and the security cam make me raise my eyebrows about whether he's gotten involved in something shady. Especially throwing a bolt that can't be undone from the outside. If I were you, I would figure out a way to move before July rather than confronting this guy. I can't imagine what possible good outcome could be imagined from that.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:35 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Drugs? In the safe in his room? He thinks you'll steal them?
posted by quincunx at 1:01 PM on February 4, 2014

I really can't comment on the internet issues (speed, possible monitoring [how do you know?]) because I am not qualified. I also think that you need to talk to him. In the meantime, a thought -

I knew someone who did this (slightly different situation: bigger house, more people involved). They did it specifically because someone was stealing stuff from their room. Inconsequential stuff, sure, but they were tired of always running out of pens/snacks/notebooks/etc. They first caught the thief on camera, but didn't get a great shot of his face, so they moved the camera to directly face the door.

Are you 100% sure that you have the ok to take paper towels from his room?*
I'm not actually accusing you of being a thief. But given the lack of communication here, is it possible that some of the communal property you are taking from his room is stuff he feels is his own?

*I remember college. Getting locked out of the apartment was a thing that happened. Or locking someone else out. Not for malevolent reasons, but because people 19 and partying a lot and not yet mature enough to remember that, yes, they need to be considerate of your roommate, and kind of keep track of where s/he's at. Also, it was not uncommon to see fights over toilet paper. Or dishes. Or paper towels.
posted by sock puppet of mystery! at 6:27 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing no one has touched on (actually, I'm shocked): OP, are you male or female? Not that that really changes the situation much, but it would be the difference between "get out of there" to "HOLY SHIT GET OUT OF THERE NOW JESUS FUCK."

I assume people think he's male because they shared a dorm room, but co-ed dorms exist, and being female, even the title set my creep alarm off immediately
posted by dekathelon at 9:22 PM on February 4, 2014

I'd really like to feel comfortable in my apartment.

You will either need to move or talk to your roommate.

There's a lot of speculation on here about your roommate's motivations. There could be any number of reasons for his behavior. Maybe he's doing live webcam sex shows using things he keeps in the safe, wanted a fast connection for the shows, and puts the hotel lock on so you won't surprise him. This would also explain why he needed paper towels in his room. Maybe he didn't realize you would go in his room, and is now feeling like his privacy has been violated.

Also, larger safes are far cheaper by volume than smaller safes. I know two people who have bought huge safes because they seemed like a much better deal. I know one of these people well enough to know that they are delighted to own a gigantic safe that they don't need. It's just a Thing, like some people buy cars or computers with more power than they could possibly use.

In the last few months, I've started locking my bedroom door at night.

Before the past week, the only things you mention were that your roommate bought a safe, and that he locks the front door at night. Was there a specific reason why you started locking your bedroom door?

If you just "don't feel safe", that's reason enough to move, but since you've ruled that option out...
posted by yohko at 2:54 AM on February 5, 2014

I'm also thinking it's drugs or something else illegal.

Just move. Can you borrow from your folks? Say it costs you a couple of grand. That's trivial in the longer run.

As someone else said above, creeping mental illness is probably the *best* case explanation here. And that's serious, as paranoid psychosis can indeed make people violent.

Either way, you're overthinking this. You need to get out. The cost of that is the cost of that, just like if you had totaled your car or ruined a nice suit.

Are you sure there are no guns in that safe?
posted by spitbull at 4:31 AM on February 6, 2014

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