The use of hidden surveillance cameras inside vacation rentals has been in the news lately. No one wants to show up to a luxury home rental and worry that they are being spied-upon. Some Airbnb hosts have even been removed from the for violating the company’s policy, and TurnKey has a very strict policy in place as well. While I understand the desire of owners to protect their properties, the importance of guest privacy is not only the law, but also common sense. Is there a solution that eases the concerns of both homeowners and guests? Having worked with thousands of owners in markets across the U.S., I believe there is a way to find this balance.
There are plenty of ways vacation rental homeowners can leverage advances in security technology to both protect their property and the safety of their guests without infringing on their privacy. Understanding what monitoring devices are acceptable for vacation properties will help homeowners navigate the best devices for each particular property.
Here are some monitoring devices you can use to make sure your home is safe, your neighbors are happy and your guests have the best experience.
Surveillance Systems and Cameras
Let’s start with the most highly controversial – video monitoring. As mentioned earlier, it’s important to obey the law and maintain the privacy of renters. What does the law say? In general, there can’t be any video monitoring where a guest would have a reasonable expectation of privacy. You can read Airbnb’s policy here.
What are some examples of locations where a guest would have this reasonable expectation? Airbnb states “bedrooms and bathrooms.” However, while TurnKey does not allow for any interior video monitoring of any kind, owners can use surveillance cameras outside the property to catch break-ins, stop a potential party or identify suspicious activity, so long as they are disclosed to guests in the listing description. The most common and simple setup we see is a doorbell camera. TurnKey integrates directly with Ring doorbell cameras, an effective solution that is also friendly on the wallet.
If you list your property with VRBO and Airbnb, make sure you are familiar with their policies. Both listing companies require owners to notify their guests when they have cameras or other surveillance systems throughout the property, including baby monitors, web cameras in computer monitors and other video and audio recording devices. If homeowners fail to comply, the guest may receive a full refund or free cancellation for the reservation, and the owner could have their listing removed from the platform entirely.
As vacation rentals become more popular among travers, neighbors and local communities often have concerns about noise levels. As an industry, our goal is to provide a great guest experience while also being a good neighbor. In this light, noise is not our friend. To address these concerns, some property owners and managers are turning to noise monitoring devices. These devices monitor the noise level in and around their rental properties for added guest safety, and to make sure guests aren’t throwing large parties or becoming a nuisance to neighbors. At TurnKey, for instance, we make sure every home we manage has a noise decibel monitor to help protect homes and increase guest safety.
Just to be clear, noise monitors don’t record conversations or any audio at all. They simply detect high levels of noise activity, typically registering the decibel level inside or outside the home. This ensures guest privacy while also providing an added layer of security, as noise monitors can also help detect the presence of unwanted visitors, such and thieves or other intruders.
A dark house can be an invitation for burglars and a safety hazard for guests unfamiliar with the layout. Remote control and automation of your lighting can not only save you money on your electric bills, but can deter unwanted intruders while making guests feel safe and welcome. One security expert told me: “Want to learn when your home is being broken into? Get an alarm. Want to prevent the break-in? Get landscape lighting.” Lighting is one of the most effective ways to prevent issues.
There are several options for automating your lighting systems. Google Smart lighting and TCP wireless offer LED light bulbs you can simply install and connect to your Wi-Fi router, allowing you to monitor your lights from an app on your phone. Wireless wall switches and outdoor flood lights can also be wired for remote access, or set up to turn on during certain hours of the night. Both options may require an electrician for installation.
Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
It is important to have a plan and the tools to detect a fire or carbon monoxide, not to mention keeping your guests safe while they are staying in your vacation rental. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are table stakes for keeping your home and guests safe from potential disasters like fires and gas leaks. But you may not know that many listing sites require hosts to agree to comply with local regulations, and may even display if a home has smoke and CO detectors right on the listing.
Private Security Patrols
Many neighborhoods have private security patrols in place, but for those that don’t, hiring a patrol to drive-by on a regular basis is extremely effective. Patrols can check for noise, parking issues, parties, damage and intervene when necessary. TurnKey has security vendors in every single market we operate in, some on regular nightly patrols of homes, others on call. In some markets we drive by homes 3-4 times a night on weekends and peak dates. Patrols can be expensive depending on your location and the density of homes nearby, but in many markets they can be worth it.
Thankfully the number of break-ins at vacation homes is incredibly low. It makes sense – rarely are any valuables kept in a second home. They just don’t make an attractive target for theft. That said, security systems are a readily-available option for owners concerned about break-ins.
When using a security system on your vacation rental, it’s important to also consider guest privacy and overall experience. For instance, guests should not feel trapped within the home they’re renting if your alarm system automatically activates after 10 p.m. Plus, you should not want to share the code to your security system with every guest who rents your home. Typically security systems are shut off before and during the entire guest stay, and re-activated upon check-out.
Home security systems can be costly depending upon the equipment used, installation, activation fees and upfront charges. Some also require a recurring monthly payment. However, home security systems have come a long way in the last 20 years and there are a variety of high-quality wireless systems on the market today. Whether you go for a wired or wireless system, here are some features to consider including in your home security system:
Door and window sensors: Leaving your windows unprotected can provide easy access for intruders and for potential damages from windows broken by tree branches, hail and high winds.
Motion sensors: In case an intruder makes it through the doors or windows undetected, motion sensors can detect their presence and serve as a back-up in case of failure of other features.
Mobile remote controls: Mobile controls give you the ability to arm and disarm your security system while you’re away. With housekeepers, repair people and guests coming and going, you can make sure your property is protected without any additional hassle.
Sirens: If an intruder were to enter your home, a siren can scare them off and warn them that the authorities are on their way.
As you can see, there are many monitoring, security and safety devices allowed in your vacation property to protect your investment and your guests. Make sure you evaluate your property needs to balance the solutions you require with what you can afford. In addition, don’t forget to account for the savings you could accrue from electricity bills and insurance discounts, as well as how these items can enhance your guests’ experiences when they feel safe and secure knowing you took the extra steps to ensure their well-being.