Can you spy on your short-term renters?

Real estate, Money

Video cameras hidden in teddy bears have caught many a babysitter doing wrong. However, keeping an eye on an employee who has been entrusted with your children is one thing. Spying on people who are renting your property is quite another.

Short-term rentals take off

With the popularity of services like Airbnb and Homeaway, the number of short-term renters and lodgers who take advantage of the new options have exploded. And while the extra income generated by renting out one’s digs is welcome, many worry that unscrupulous renters will trash the property, steal valuable possessions, or disobey the rules they’ve established.

Hence the desire to monitor the guests. But fretful short-term landlords should be advised: their surveillance opportunities are limited. Short-term renters have the right to enjoy privacy, just like long-term renters or hotel guests.

Beware of invasion of privacy

“Short-term rental hosts should avoid using cameras or other recording devices inside the unit,” says G. Brian Davis, director of education for Spark Rental. “If they have a smart security device that they use to monitor doors or windows from the inside of the unit, they should either disclose them in the listing or, better yet, disconnect and remove them for the duration of a guest’s stay.”

Landlords of short-term rentals are taking a risk on tenants. You haven’t met the renter (in most cases) before they get the keys to your property. Yes, they’ve paid up front, at least for a portion of their stay, but you have no way of gauging their integrity and their respect for your property. Regardless of your concerns, however, renters have rights, and spying is no way to ensure compliance with your rules.

“A renter may have a cause of action against a landlord if video surveillance has been installed in area where the renter has a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy.’ This could be areas such as a bedroom, bathroom, or even living room,” says Anthony Shallat, an attorney with Angstman Johnson in Boise, Idaho.

Video surveillance is not completely forbidden

Despite renters’ reasonable expectation of privacy in private living areas, “Individuals do not have the same privacy rights in public or common areas of residential buildings,” says Jeffrey R. Homapour, an attorney in private practice in Brooklyn. “These areas generally include vestibules, hallways, stairwells, and areas used for ingress and egress. Landlords are permitted to install security cameras, whether hidden or visible, in public or common areas to monitor such areas.”

Those looking to rent their property using the new tools available to them would do well to get some information and assurances on landlord-tenant law, or consult with a landlord-tenant lawyer directly.