Can You Sue Airbnb/Vrbo if You're Filmed/Photographed Without Permission?

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Tips for Spotting Hidden Surveillance Video Cameras in Your Airbnb/Vrbo Vacation Rental

Tips for Spotting Hidden Surveillance Video Cameras in Your Airbnb/Vrbo Vacation Rental

Jun 24, 2022

It’s officially summer, which means traveling and enjoying leisure time on vacation for many. When traveling, how we choose accommodations has shifted considerably in recent years with the advent of options like Airbnb and Vrbo. In fact, the popularity of such platforms has skyrocketed.

Can You Sue Airbnb/Vrbo if You’re Filmed/Photographed Without Permission?

According to data provided by The Zebra website, statistics confirmed for 2022 indicate that Airbnb has approximately 5.6 million active listings in 220 countries, and 60% of its users are millennials.

Some additional statistics on Airbnb usage include:

  • Airbnb has over 150 million users and hosts more than half a billion guests per year.
  • There are at least 100,000 cities with active Airbnb listings.
  • 150 million people use Airbnb to book vacation stays or experiences.
  • Over 1 billion guests have stayed at Airbnbs
  • Airbnb has listings in over 220 countries and regions.

With more and more travelers using Airbnb and Vrbo for their vacation rental accommodations, while convenience and variety are certainly positive aspects, potential safety concerns have made headlines recently.

In the sections below, we will look at some recent Airbnb and Vrbo vacation rental cases involving guests being subjected to various types of danger as well as having their rights violated. We’ll also look at whether or not it is legal for an Airbnb or Vrbo property owner/manager to secretly capture video or photographic images of you and/or your guests while vacationing. Furthermore, we’ll review how to file a civil claim for damages if your legal rights have been violated by an Airbnb or Vrbo property manager or owner.

Is it Illegal for Airbnb/Vrbo Hosts to Film/Photograph You Without Permission?

Firstly, Airbnb’s community policy states the following:

  • Use of cameras and recording devices:

To help provide Hosts and guests with peace of mind, security measures like security cameras and noise monitoring devices are allowed, as long as they are clearly disclosed in the listing description and don’t infringe on another person’s privacy. Rules about devices apply to all cameras, recording devices, smart devices, and monitoring devices.

Furthermore, Airbnb confirms the following information.

What the company does allow (re: recording devices/surveillance of guests):

Disclosed devices monitoring only public spaces and common spaces: Devices that allow for viewing or monitoring of only a public space (ex: a front door or a driveway) or a common space that are clearly identified and disclosed ahead of a reservation are permitted. Common spaces do not include sleeping areas or bathrooms.

What the company does not allow (re: recording devices/surveillance of guests):

Concealed and undisclosed devices monitoring common spaces: Any device monitoring a common space should be installed in a visible manner and disclosed in the listing description.
Devices located in or monitoring private spaces: Devices should never monitor private spaces (ex: bedrooms, bathrooms, or common areas that are being used as sleeping areas, like a living room with a sofa bed). Disconnected devices are allowed as long as they are turned off and proactively disclosed to guests.

Recording devices in an entire home or apartment (Mainland China only): Cameras and recording devices are not allowed in entire homes or apartments unless they are clearly identified and disclosed in the common spaces of a stay identified as a “resort,” “castle,” or, “villa.” Learn more about these rules in Mainland China.

In other words, Airbnb hosts have the right to install monitoring devices in “common spaces,” such as a front door or driveway. However, that equipment must be visible to guests and be clearly disclosed in the listing description.

What are the Laws on Secretly Recording Airbnb or Vrbo Guests?

The laws on secretly recording Airbnb and Vrbo guests vary from state-to-state.

A USA TODAY report provided details related to the legality of capturing video or photographic images of Airbnb/Vrbo guests during their visits. According to The Federal Video Voyeurism Act, an Airbnb or Vrbo host can’t:

“capture an image of a private area of an individual without their consent, and knowingly does so under circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

However, as the USA TODAY report notes, “private area” refers to nudity or lesser states of dress. Local and state laws usually allow property owners to install cameras in “public spaces,” but there is an important distinction:

  • Private areas, like bedrooms and bathrooms, or anywhere anyone would reasonably expect privacy, are off-limits.

Additionally, there are other rules Airbnb and Vrbo guests should know before renting a property:

  • It is illegal to record someone for blackmail or other malicious intent.
  • Audio recording also has much stricter rules than video.
  • In many states, both parties must be aware that the recording is taking place.
  • If you’re renting, check the listing carefully for any mention of cameras.
  • Whether or not you see a disclosure, it’s your responsibility upon arrival to check every single room.

How Can You Spot Surveillance Cameras in Airbnb and Vrbo Property Rentals?

USA TODAY offers the following tips for spotting surveillance cameras when renting Airbnb or Vrbo properties.

While large cameras can be easily identified, most surveillance cameras are difficult to detect with the naked eye. Here are the top tips for spotting small and secretly placed surveillance cameras within rental properties:

  • Look for the lens reflection by turning off the unit’s lights and slowly scanning the room with a flashlight or laser pointer, searching for bright reflections.
  • Scan the room from multiple spots so you don’t miss a camera pointed only at certain places.
  • Inspect the vents and any holes or gaps in the walls or ceilings.
  • Purchase and use an RF detector (a device that can pick up wireless cameras you might not see).

Additionally, if you are able to connect to the rental’s wireless network, USA TODAY recommends utilizing a free program like Wireless Network Watcher. The program can scan and highlight what gadgets are connected to the network, potentially allowing you to spot connected cameras that way.

Moreover, USA TODAY notes that, “If a home automation system controls the rental property, it’s relatively easy to find cameras. Open the system controller’s menu and look for anything mentioning cameras. Accordingly, you can scan the TV channels for anything suspicious.” The USA TODAY reporter confirmed finding “a lot of cameras” in a particular vacation rental utilizing this method.

What Should You Do if You Find a Hidden Surveillance Camera in Your Airbnb/Vrbo Property?

Here are the most important steps to take if you discover your host has been recording you illegally:

  • Call the police/local law enforcement.
  • Inform officials that you have direct evidence that your landlord is spying on you inside your rental home without your knowledge or permission.
  • Document the situation with video and photos on your smartphone.
  • If you’re traveling with others, ask them to serve as witnesses once the police arrive.
  • Once you have filed an official police report, contact the rental site company.

Recent Texas Airbnb Host Arrested, Alleged to Have Taken Over 2,000 Images of Guests Naked or Having Sex

In March, Dordulian Law Group (DLG) posted a blog detailing a story involving a Texas Airbnb host, A Jay Allee, 54, who was initially arrested on November 20, 2021, and charged with four counts of invasive visual recording – a felony in the state of Texas. The suspect was then arrested a second time in December 2021 on additional charges of the same offense. Officials alleged Allee took over 2,000 images of Airbnb guests nude and having sex.

Can I File a Lawsuit for an Airbnb Injury?

Airbnb Guest Raped in New York City Rental Sues for $7 Million

In June 2021, DLG reported on a sexual assault survivor who received a $7 million payout after being raped inside her Airbnb rental in 2015. The rape, which occurred on New Year’s Eve that year, happened after the alleged suspect made a copy of the key to the apartment and accessed the unit where he waited until the victim returned shortly after midnight. The survivor was an Australian traveler who had been out with friends but returned to the Airbnb rental alone where she was attacked by a man hiding in the bathroom.

Also in June 2021, Business Insider reported that Airbnb spends about $50 million a year trying to “make things right” for guests and hosts who’ve had bad experiences.

Furthermore, Airbnb told Business Insider that:

  • Fewer than 0.1% of stays involve safety issues
  • Most payouts deal with claims of property damage
  • Six-figure payouts are “exceptionally rare”

However, as Business Insider notes, with 193 million nights booked through Airbnb in 2020, that could mean that some 193,000 guests have endured stays which involved safety incidents.

In 2015, a woman sued Airbnb after finding a hidden camera in California rental where she slept naked.

Notably, while staying as a guest in the property, at night Mrs. Schumacher would sleep without any clothing, believing that with the front door closed and the window blinds drawn throughout the property, she was protected and free from prying eyes,” the complaint stated. “This natural presumption proved to be incorrect.

In another well-known voyeurism hospitality case, a Marriott hotel was found liable (to the tune of almost $55 million) in the 2015 Erin Andrews peephole video case. The jury in the civil trial found Marriott liable for not preventing a stalker to surreptitiously record her in her hotel room.

Can I Sue an Airbnb or Vrbo Host for Secretly Recording or Injuring Me?

Civil lawsuits for damages may be filed against Airbnb/Vrbo hosts and/or the respective company directly depending on the circumstances of your incident.

Some of the civil claims that are commonly filed in Airbnb or Vrbo cases include:

General Injuries: An Airbnb/Vrbo injury can involve suffering a slip and fall due to a leaking refrigerator/appliance, a piece of furniture breaking, or even a structural collapse of the property. If you’ve been injured due to negligence on the part of an Airbnb or Vrbo host, you may be able to recover financial compensation for various losses through a civil claim.

Sexual Assaults: Airbnb and Vrbo have been in the news recently following high-profile sexual assaults which occurred at their properties. In June, DLG posted a blog after an Australian tourist received a $7 million settlement following a New York City Airbnb rape incident.

Stolen Property or Property Damage: Airbnb and Vrbo hosts have a duty of care under the law to ensure all rental properties are safe and secure (and both you as the guest and your personal property/belongings are out of harm’s way).

Scams/Fraud: Airbnb and Vrbo rentals continue to increase in popularity. A recent Guardian report confirmed that an average of 2 million users occupy Airbnb property rentals on any given night. As more and more people are turning to Airbnb and Vrbo for vacation accommodations, scams of every variety are being reported. If you’ve been victimized by an Airbnb or Vrbo scam, you may be entitled to a cash settlement.

Swimming Pool Accidents: Swimming pool injuries commonly occur at Airbnb and Vrbo property rental locations. When such an injury occurs due to negligence or carelessness, filing a civil claim can be a means of recovering much-needed financial compensation.

Dog Bites or Animal Attacks: Animal attacks including dog bites commonly occur at Airbnb/Vrbo properties. If you’ve been injured by a dog bite or animal attack, contact DLG’s Airbnb/Vrbo injury lawyers today for a free consultation.

Electrocutions/Fires: Unsafe electrical equipment at Airbnb and Vrbo properties can lead to electrocutions, shocks, and even burns from fires. If you’ve suffered this type of injury at your Airbnb or Vrbo rental property, you may be eligible to recover financial compensation.

Bedbug Bites: While Airbnb and Vrbo properties may look pristine and even glamorous in pictures, the actual property may be filthy upon arrival. In such cases, bedbug bites are commonly reported by guests. If you’ve suffered bedbug bites/injuries at an Airbnb/Vrbo property, you may be able to recover financial compensation for various damages.

Airbnb offers $1 million in insurance for personal injury claims from travelers.

Los Angeles Airbnb/Vrbo Rape and Sexual Assault Attorneys

Contact a Los Angeles, California, Airbnb/Vrbo Lawyer Today

Contact the experienced DLG team of personal injury attorneys led by Sam Dordulian today for a free consultation. We’re available 24/7 online or by phone at 818-322-4056.

Proving liability and ensuring you recover the maximum damages award you deserve for your Airbnb/Vrbo claim requires a skilled, trusted, and proven attorney. Accordingly, when it comes to choosing the best lawyer to handle your Airbnb/Vrbo injury claim, don’t settle for anything less than the DLG Advantage.

Contact our top-rated team of expert sexual abuse attorneys online or by phone today to pursue justice and secure a financial award for damages.

We’re ready to fight aggressively to recover the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your Airbnb/Vrbo claim – whether the case involves your host illegally recording you or another guest, suffering an injury, a sexual assault, or another type of harm endured through negligence. Contact us today to learn more about why DLG’s team is comprised of California’s leading and most-trusted Airbnb/Vrbo lawyers.

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