Hidden cameras, misleading listings: Rentals from home share websites come with risks

CHICAGO (WLS) -- With the popularity of short-term home rentals also comes risks, like hidden cameras inside or not getting what you paid for. Consumer Investigator Jason Knowles and the ABC 7 I-Team found disputes that will have you triple checking your next rental.

Nadya is a traveling nurse who has rented from home share websites when out of town.

"When I see what the person actually did, it was pretty upsetting and disgusting," she said. She asked that we not use her last name out of concerns for her safety.

She set up her own camera in her Virginia Airbnb for extra security.

"I rented a place that was supposed to be private and the person violated my privacy," Nadya said.

She said the Airbnb host entered her private space without permission. In a police report, investigators said they viewed the video and saw the host put his hands down his pants for 16 seconds. The host told police he had an itch.

Nadya said she was grateful she installed the camera because without it she wouldn't have known what happened.

The local police told the I-Team the man never exposed himself; they closed the case and did not pursue charges. Airbnb said it did remove the host from the platform because he should not have entered Nadya's private "guest suite" apartment space without permission. She complained to Airbnb.

"They refunded me and they also had taken off this listing off the platform," she said.

Airbnb said in a statement, "The safety of our community... is our priority, and we take reports of privacy violations very seriously."

They added, "with more than 2 million guests checking into an Airbnb every single night,...negative incidents are incredibly rare."

But what if your host had the cameras? Laws vary state to state, but Airbnb said cameras are prohibited in private places like bathrooms and bedrooms. They are allowed in common areas if disclosed.

In Los Angeles, a couple said they discovered a hidden camera disguised as a smoke detector placed over the bed. Police said the camera wasn't on so no charges were filed. Airbnb removed the listing, refunded the couple, and said safety and privacy are priorities.

Security expert Jordan Ferrantelli showed the I-Team how you can hunt for hidden cameras by pointing a flashlight close to anything suspicious.

"If you have a flashlight, this works best when its dark, you can actually shine the light and you'll see a reflection off the glass when you're going through it and it's best if you look straight on," said Ferrantelli.

You can also use your smartphone camera in "selfie" mode.

"At night you would want to look and see if you're seeing any reflections of that flashing IR light, or red or purple light that's coming out of this and that, might be a determining factor that there is in fact a hidden camera in here," he added.

Ferrantelli said you can also avoid disputes by researching the neighborhood and getting hosts to Facetime the property before you go.

James and Laurie Mraz's three month road trip to Florida fell flat renting a home through the website Flip Key.

"The master bedroom had a queen size bed in it, no dressers, no nightstands, no nothing," James said.

The Mrazes said the photos and description the homeowner posted were misleading, because what they ended up with, they said, was a list of their complaints, including appliances which didn't work, wobbly stairs and feral cats.

"He feels sorry for them and they have the run of the house," said James Mraz.

And they said there was mold in the bathroom.

"I had a hard time breathing so I just couldn't stay in that house," said Laurie Mraz

The couple left and told the I-Team that the home's owner gave them all of their money back. But when they asked Flip Key for their deposit, they were denied because of the site's policy to not refund booking fees. Flip Key offered them a credit towards another booking, but they declined.

"The $550 or $560, I'm really not worried about that," Laurie Mraz said. "I just really don't want anyone else to go through that."

Flip Key also said its policy required the couple to report the incident within 24 hours, but they didn't They said that incidents are rare, and customer service is available to help with refunds and alternative accommodations.

Since the I-Team got involved, Flip Key told the Mrazs they reimbursed their booking fee and banned the homeowner from the site.

All of these home share renters said they've learned from their experience.

"What I'm definitely going to take away from this to be careful, not everything is as good as it seems," said Nadya.

The I-Team reached out the man who hosted Nadya but he did not get back to us.

When booking through a home share site you should always look at the hosts reviews and ratings and see if they are disclosing cameras in so called common areas.

Besides the bedroom you may also want waive a flashlight in bathrooms and shower areas and look for those small glass reflections.

TIPS TO BETTER ENSURE A GOOD HOME-SHARE EXPERIENCE

- Check reviews, on numerous websites, of the property you plan to rent.
- Research the neighborhood of the property.
- Ask the renter pointed questions about the property. Consider asking the owner to do a Facetime live tour of the property.
- Check the description for cameras in the common areas (kitchen, living room, etc.) Some states allow this but they must be disclosed.
- Cameras are not allowed in places where privacy is assumed (bathrooms, bedrooms). Check by looking around, using an LED flashlight or a smart phone on selfie-mode. The camera lens will reflect light.
- Look for red flags such as two smoke alarms or alarm clocks in one room or an item that is not usually found in a specific room. The items could contain cameras.
- If you find a camera, immediately leave and contact police and the homes hare rental agency, not the property owner.
- Carefully read a home share sites refund policies.
- Ask the property owner if they use code locks on doors; they are safer than keys, which anyone can make a copy of.
- Ask the property owner to give you a brand new key code. The code should be changed every time a renter leaves.

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With the popularity of short-term home rentals also comes risks, like hidden cameras inside or not getting what you paid for. Consumer Investigator Jason Knowles and the ABC 7 I-Te

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