Home Sweet Home - Home Discreet Home
28 November 2018
When it comes to invasions of privacy, few incursions cut more keenly than unauthorised and unwelcome publication of details surrounding your home. Much more than bricks and mortar, to be at home is to be unobserved, protected, comfortable. It is a personal space, integral to enjoyment of privacy itself.
Few of us want our homes – or our home life – in the limelight, and while there are legal remedies if intrusions occur, it has been our experience that when it comes to invasions of personal space prevention beats cure by a very considerable margin.
With journalists, campaigners and even well-meaning fans and admirers increasingly adept at digging out details online – and sometimes amplifying them online or on social media – enjoying privacy at home requires some informed engagement with the issues.
Thinking through your lifecycle at an address can help to identify many of the pinch points where some forethought is beneficial.
For those who place the highest priority on privacy, there may well be points to consider at this stage about how the property is acquired, who is informed of your acquisition and how those in the know might be asked to maintain discretion. For many reputable property managers and estate agents a request for discretion is sufficient, but in some cases a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) may be appropriate. It is also helpful at this point to request that estate agents remove from their own website and other third-party property portals the prospectus for the property, which might contain interior images and floorplans that would undermine both privacy and personal security. You might even seek to obtain the copyright for these images as part of the sale; this can be very helpful for privacy protection as copyright is a powerful tool for maintaining control of images, especially in the United States.
If the property is vulnerable to long lens photography or other intrusions, up to and including drones, you can also consider, before moving in, how some practical landscaping or other decorative touches could improve privacy without drawing undue attention to the home.
Planning applications can be a real Achilles heel for privacy-minded homeowners. Searchable online, these cannot be altered once submitted and can often include not only names of homeowners, but floorplans and other fine details and embellishments, such as vehicles in parking garages and the location of safes. However, there is no obligation that they be submitted in the homeowner’s name (architects, interior designers, lawyers and other third parties can make them) and – if floorplans are included – architects can be advised to keep detail to a minimum. We’ve also encountered, from time to time, cases where individuals were unknowingly named in neighbours’ planning applications, as permission was being sought for similar works. So, if you are aware that The Jones next door are trying to replicate your basement extension it may be prudent to ensure that they know the documents are public and don’t plan to name-check you directly.
If you are concerned that tradesmen working in the home might be tempted to ‘click-and-tell’ using the cameras on their smartphones, NDAs might be less effective than a simple tamper-proof sticker covering the camera while they are on site. Tabloid reports on luxury renovations lose a lot of their lustre without pictures, so it is worth making sure than none are available via planning permissions, social media or casual snaps that fall into the wrong hands.
Consider how you use your address. For example, do you vote? Many private individuals unintentionally end up on their Electoral Roll, with their address sometimes passed on to aggregated residential databases (such as 192.com). Fortunately, it is straightforward to identify and rectify if your address has been exposed in this way. In a similar vein, it is worth taking care to avoid disclosure of your home address when writing to public authorities – for example, the local council – as your letters could be disclosable under Freedom of Information requests.
At this settled stage, it is also prudent to consider your day-to-day activities (online shopping can put some personal data at risk, for example) and your social circle’s use of social media (will your daughter’s friends unintentionally ‘check in’ to your house?), as well as who else has access to your personal space. It can be helpful to ensure that friends, household staff and others who might frequent the property from time to time (for example, caterers) understand your personal boundaries and your expectations regarding their use of social media or photography in (or about) your home. In some situations, NDAs for staff or contractors may be appropriate, but often it is enough to offer an employee clear guidance on your expectations and some education on what information they risk making public. For example, a nanny proudly posting an image of her adorable charge might not realise that she has identified the child’s school, home address or other regular activities.
If you are frequently away from home for long durations with an employee managing the property, it is worth considering beforehand how you will vet those most closely responsible for your home and how the security of these arrangements might be appropriately monitored over time. It’s a rare occurrence, but we’ve occasionally seen staff install listening devices or even cameras without owner authorisation, so some proportionally monitoring of these issues could be considered.
Selling a property raises some of the same concerns as buying, regarding the publishing and treatment of floorplans and interior images and the distribution of these should be carefully managed. If published online, these can be removed on completion and you can ensure you hold copyright of the images. Care should also be taken to ensure that no metadata which might unintentionally identify the family is embedded in the photographs.
If potential buyers are aware of the owner’s identity (or if they would be likely to infer it from photos or other aspects of the home décor) they can be asked to refrain from taking pictures, with their cameras covered if necessary. Moreover, you may want to ensure your estate agent conducts a degree of basic due diligence on anyone applying for a viewing to ensure that they are a legitimately interested party with the means to purchase the house should they wish to do so; this will help deter a journalist or other interested party from taking the opportunity to get an inside look at your lifestyle.
With a bit of forethought and common sense – and without undue inconvenience – you can help ensure that your home remains the sanctuary that it should be.Receive our monthly newsletter