Despite record gas prices and a slowing economy, millions of people are expected to rent vacation properties this summer. Travelers take note: Your time away may not be as private as you think.
With hidden cameras and other forms of surveillance tech becoming cheaper, smaller and harder to identify, reports of their usage in short-term rentals have increased. While reasons for their usage can range from catching rule-breaking guests to creepy voyeurism, it’s safe to say that guests would rather not be recorded without their permission.
There is an expectation of privacy in a short-term rental property, one that is protected by law, but that is not always respected by property owners.
While it is legal for an owner to monitor the outside of a property, any surveillance of the rental’s interior falls in murky legal waters. Many property owners maintain that it’s okay to monitor common areas, so long as bathrooms and bedrooms are not monitored. But any surveillance of the interior of a rental is not common practice and, in most cases, it’s illegal.
The major short-term rental agencies, including AirBnB and VRBO, forbid any cameras on the inside of a rental property unless they are disclosed to the renter with instructions on how to deactivate them, and also that it is not possible to remotely activate them.
Do property owners install cameras even when the law says they can’t? They do. It is not always possible to find the devices, especially if the monitor is intentionally hidden. Cameras can be located in a shower head, stuffed animal, power strip, clock, USB wall charger, smoke detector, pens, picture frames or in vents and other small openings. The reality is that if someone is determined to spy on a guest, they can do so quite easily.
There are so many ways for a stalker to gain access to your private moments. For just one less common instance, a camera hidden can be concealed behind a two-way mirror. This can be easily detected by placing a fingernail against the mirror. If there is a gap between the reflection of your finger and your finger, it’s a real mirror. If there isn’t, you may have company.
A few things you can do:
- Turn off the lights after dark and scan the room visually: Any camera equipped with night vision will be visible. Look for a red or green light.
- Download an app that will allow you to detect a hidden camera: Just search, “hidden camera detector,” but make sure you choose one that has many positive reviews.
- Make a phone call: A low-tech, although not entirely foolproof, way to check for hidden cameras is to make a phone call on your smartphone and walk around the rental, since many hidden cameras operate on frequencies that will interfere with your phone signal.
- Bring a flashlight: Checking a room with a flashlight or your phone’s flashlight app can make it easier to spot the reflection from a hidden camera lens.