Imagine this; you’re standing at the window of your home when you see someone drive up, roll down their window, snap a photo of your home, and drive away.
Or perhaps a stranger comes up to the sidewalk in front of your home, snaps some pictures on their phone, and walks on.
You might be wondering if it’s legal for a stranger to photograph your house.
The answer is yes; in most cases in the United States, a stranger can legally photograph your house without your permission.
That said, there are rules you need to be aware of, and limits to what people can photograph. Let’s explore.
Firstly, a disclaimer. I am a professional photographer and journalist, not an attorney. I am sharing what I’ve learned from multiple sources. I recommend that you visit those sources or consult an attorney for any specific legal questions. This is not legal advice.
Why People Can Freely Photograph Your House
It might seem strange that anyone can photograph your house. But there are clear reasons why this is the case.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right.”
The ACLU goes on to explain that in the United States, the First Amendment gives people broad rights to take photographs of nearly anything that’s publicly visible.
In many cases, the right to take photos overrides individual rights. For example, a court ruled that a photographer could photograph a man on a public street without his permission, even though having his photo taken was against his religion.
Your house is plainly visible. If someone is photographing it from a public street, they likely have a First Amendment right to do so.
Limits on People Photographing Your House
That said, there are limits on when someone can legally photograph your house.
For one thing, they can only legally photograph your house from public property, like a road or sidewalk. If they step onto your private property, they may be trespassing, and you can ask them to leave, the ACLU suggests.
Remember, though, that many states look at questions of public and private property differently. You may need to post a sign indicating that your property is private, for example, in order to stop people from coming onto your property to take photos or do anything else.
If someone is standing on your lawn and taking photos of your house, for example, they might be breaking the law.
You also may have the right to privacy when you’re inside your house. This would mean that someone could not photograph you.
However, even this right is limited. A photographer published an entire exhibit of photos that he took of a single family, by photographing through their large, glass windows. He was legally allowed to do this, since the family didn’t cover the windows and try to protect their privacy.
Finally, someone cannot harass you by photographing you or your house. If you feel unsafe as the result of a person photographing your house, you should always contact local law enforcement to make them aware of the situation.
Why Would Someone Photograph Your House?
If you see someone photographing your house, it’s reasonable to feel concerned. It’s important to know, though, that in many cases, they may be photographing your house for a perfectly legitimate reason.
- Local utility companies often photograph houses in advance of undertaking large projects. Likewise, home appraisers often photograph houses in a neighborhood when they are trying to determine a nearby house’s value.
- Insurance adjusters may photograph nearby houses if a homeowner files an insurance claim.
- Delivery people often photograph your house after dropping off a package, to provide Amazon or another delivery service with proof that they made the delivery.
Again, if you feel unsafe as a result of someone photographing your house, it’s important to reach out to local authorities. In many cases, though, someone may be taking those photos for completely innocent reasons.
It might seem strange to think that any stranger can take photos of your house without asking you. But according to the ACLU, if they are photographing your house from public property, they can likely do so legally.
Again, if the person steps onto your property, is harassing you, or is invading your privacy (such as by taking photos through a covered window), that may make their actions illegal.
Keep in mind that this article is not legal advice. Local ordinances may impact someone’s right to photograph your house. If you have specific legal questions, you should always consult an attorney.
But again, even if someone is photographing your house, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have bad intentions. In many cases, they may be an insurance professional, realtor, or utility contractor who is just doing their job.