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Occasionally there are stories in the news that send shivers down the spines of vacationers around the world. You’re staying in a room and you spot a strange glimmer and realize it’s a camera hidden on a bookshelf. These days hidden cameras or surveillance devices can be placed in almost any object — and it’s a gross invasion of privacy. So what are the laws with surveillance and home rentals, and can vacation rentals have cameras? It’s important to protect your privacy, so here’s the lowdown.

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Vacation Rental Policy

Surveillance cameras in vacation rentals are against Airbnb and similar vacation rental sites’ policies. Homeowners do, however, have the right to protect their property and according to most vacation rental sites’ policies, if there are cameras, they have to be clearly disclosed on the listing, so anyone booking the property is completely aware that they will be on camera. Hidden cameras are strictly against Airbnb and other home sharing platforms’ policies.

Surveillance Cameras in Common Areas

Airbnb and other sites firmly assert that surveillance cameras can only be placed in common areas, such as the kitchen, living room, and hallways. Some may have cameras pointing to the entrance for safety reasons. These are the most common types of cameras as hosts can check how many people are coming and going from the property. Hosts are forbidden from installing cameras in private spaces including bedrooms, bathrooms, and other sleeping areas.

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Check a Room When Entering

This is applicable for all accommodation options, from vacation rentals to upscale hotels. It’s worth having a quick check around the room to see if you can spot anything suspicious. Check smoke detectors, motion detectors, alarm clocks, and decorative items. One of the hardest parts about checking a room for a hidden device is that cameras can be hidden in just about anything, whether it’s a stuffed toy, a string of fairy lights or a charging device, people are very creative with how they hide recording devices. Do a thorough search when entering the room for your own peace of mind.

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What to Look For

Surveillance devices can come in the form of small cameras, webcams on computers, audio recording devices, smartphones, and more. Devote serious time when checking a room as the devices can be very small.

Familiarize yourself with what a hidden camera looks like — unfortunately, they can be tiny and are inexpensive to buy. Hidden cameras can be easily purchased through sites such as Amazon, either just as a camera, or as an everyday, inconspicuous object with a camera already installed.

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Use a Radio Frequency Detector

It might be worth investing in a radio frequency detector so you can scan a room to be sure there are no cameras. Radio Frequency Detectors scan places for any transmission of radio signals, and they alert you if they spot something. It’s important to remember that they can’t spot everything, however, as they only work by detecting active transmission waves. If there’s a camera or audio device that is just recording and not sending its recordings, a radio frequency detector can’t spot this.

Lens Detection

Another useful technique is lens detection. It requires patience and you have to slowly sweep a room while using a torch to look for a glimmer of a lens in a dark room. The process must be done very slowly in order to have success with this method as the glimmer is easy to miss.

By Bernard Hermant / Unsplash

Where to Look For a Hidden Camera

Think logically about where someone would want to install a hidden camera. Generally, cameras need a clear line of view, and a wide angle to capture a whole room (if there’s only one camera that’s been installed). If there’s an object unusually positioned in a room, be sure to check it. Be aware of cameras that may have been positioned in order to see your passwords and log-in details if you’re using a laptop — this could be aimed at desks, sofas, or tables where you may put your computer. It’s also worth remembering that the WiFi belongs to the host, and while using the WiFi your information could easily be hacked. We don’t mean that you should distrust a host — just to be aware that a person who has previously stayed in the vacation rental could have tampered with the WiFi. Unless a host is regularly changing the WiFi password, this is something to take on board.

What to Do if You Find a Hidden Camera

If you find a hidden camera or a camera that’s installed and was not disclosed on the listing, contact the home rental site immediately. If you find a hidden camera, or there’s a camera in the bedroom or bathroom, it’s also worth letting the police know. Local laws vary, but in many states, a hidden camera in a home rental or hotel is violating the law — and above all, your privacy.

You can also contact the property manager or host if you find a hidden camera. They are not necessarily the ‘bad guys’ and it could have been installed by a past guest. Go on gut instinct as to whether you trust the host or not. Always be very careful when renting through a non-regulated platform such as Craigslist and opt to use one of the best vacation rental sites available.

Ask Questions Before Booking

If in doubt, contact the owner before you stay in the home rental to check where/if they have surveillance. Some may be open and tell you they’ve installed surveillance cameras or audio recording devices in the living rooms and/or common areas, and maybe you’re OK with that. As for bedrooms and bathrooms, these are private spaces and areas that cameras definitely should not be present — therefore it’s more likely they will be hidden from sight. Ask the property owner if there are any electronic devices that you need to be aware of, and see what their reaction is. Do they reply to you with a firm ‘no’, or is the answer vague? If the answer is vague, it’s best to consider renting another property as there’s a chance there could be a hidden device.

By Kyle Glenn / Unsplash
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