The fact that an Indiana couple found hidden cameras in their Florida Airbnb rental, and that local law enforcement believes dozens of renters at the same location may have been illegally captured on video going back years, is distressing. But it’s not new. Airbnb was sued two years ago after a German woman discovered a hidden camera in her California rental.
Clearly the owners of the rentals are violating criminal statutes and could be civilly liable for the secret surveillance, but what about Airbnb itself? Can the company be sued if guests are filmed without their permission?
To be fair, Airbnb has a pretty clear electronic surveillance policy, banning any undisclosed surveillance devices and all surveillance devices from private areas like bedrooms and bathrooms, even if they’ve been disclosed:
If you’re a host and you have any type of surveillance device in or around a listing, even if it’s not turned on or hooked up, we require that you let guests know by including this information clearly in your listing description and photographs. If a host discloses the device after booking, Airbnb will allow the guest to cancel the reservation and receive a refund. Host cancellation penalties may apply.
But do Airbnb’s rules absolve the company from legal liability if a host fails to abide by them?
While much of the responsibility will fall on hosts (and their insurance policies, hopefully) for injury accidents, it may be a different matter with criminal activity. Airbnb has been accused of “Superhost” badges and green check marks next to renters’ names, along with the word “Verified,” all without performing background checks on hosts or disclosing to guests that the company does not do background checks. Additionally, a Marriott hotel was found liable (to the tune of almost $27 million) in the Erin Andrews peephole video case for not preventing a stalker to surreptitiously record her in her hotel room.
So while it looks like Wayne Natt, who could be facing up to 30 criminal charges of video voyeurism, will be held accountable in this case, Airbnb may also be on the hook civilly for hosts’ criminal activity.