TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) – A Texas couple is suing two homeowners, alleging they were spying on the couple through an undisclosed camera in the bedroom of their vacation rental.
The civil lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Travis County, also names vacation-rental platform Vrbo as a defendant, claiming the company does not do enough to deter users from using surveillance devices inside the properties.
The couple filed the lawsuit after being informed that a camera had been found inside a property they rented in Comfort, Texas, in August 2020. After the couple’s vacation stay, police told them the homeowners illegally placed video cameras on the property, including in the bedroom.
“The bedroom camera was placed to capture illicit videos of the [plaintiffs] in various stages of undress or other intimate and private moments,” the lawsuit said.
According to court records, the homeowners did not disclose there were video cameras on the property. Last November, Kendall County authorities filed charges against one homeowner for improper photography.
“These were cameras directed in the bedroom to capture elicit footage, and that’s what it did,” said Kristina Baehr of Just Well Law. Baehr represents the couple, who are choosing to stay anonymous as John and Jane Doe.
Baehr said her clients didn’t find out about the cameras until months after their visit, when local police contacted them. She said it triggered past trauma for one of her clients.
“Their first reaction was just shock and awe, but then also, it triggers all of these traumatic feelings that you have to go and address. And so, she is in an active therapy to recover from this incident,” Baehr said.
The lawsuit claimed there was a systematic failure by Vrbo to prevent harm or appropriately deter this type of behavior on these properties.
“While Vrbo claims to prohibit the surreptitious use of surveillance cameras, enforcement of this policy is trivial,” the lawsuit claimed.
In a statement, Vrbo said it has a “strict, long-standing policy” against surveillance devices that violate the privacy and security of guests.
“Surveillance devices capturing the inside of a property are never allowed in listings on our platform,” the Vrbo statement said. “Surveillance devices outside a property, such as external security cameras or smart doorbells, are only allowed under specific rules and the host must always disclose their presence on the property listing page.
“Although these occurrences are rare, our trust and safety team actively investigates any complaints about bad actors and takes action accordingly, including permanently removing any host in violation of our policies.”
The lawsuit claims the experience left the plaintiffs feeling violated.
“The [plaintiffs] now have a fear of travel and hotel rooms. They will likely never be able to stay in a guest rental home again,” the lawsuit stated.
Both the homeowners of the rental property and Vrbo are being sued for negligence, fraud and misrepresentation, and private nuisance, according to court records.
The plaintiffs are also suing the homeowners for gross negligence and intrusion on seclusion. Records showed the lawsuit seeks more than $250,000 for damages.
Spotting hidden cameras
According to WOAI, the arrest affidavit for the Comfort, Texas, case mentions another man who stayed at the same rental cabin nearly a year after John and Jane Doe.
That man said he googled “how to find hidden cameras” after the homeowner made suggestive comments. He later found a device that looked like an AC/DC adapter facing the bed, and noticed a reflection on the front and a blue light blinking on the side, according to the report.
The man was staying with a woman who was already undressed in the room before they discovered the device, and both left immediately because they were worried they were being illegally recorded, WOAI reported of the affidavit.
The report also stated investigators found several pictures of other adult males and females, clothed and/or partially undressed, naked and/or involved in sexual acts.
Spotting hidden cameras, meanwhile, can be tricky. Some can be disguised to appear as functioning smoke detectors, baby monitors, or even USB charging plugs or wall clocks. Experts suggest shining a bright light at any object suspected of being hidden cameras; camera lenses will reflect a blue or red color when hit.