Couple discovers spy cameras in Manatee County AirBNB, legal options limited

Manatee County

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Cap News Services) – A Texas couple who discovered spy cameras in their Manatee County AirBNB rental and asked the Supreme Court of Florida Wednesday for their day in a trial court. 

The couple has been blocked from suing because they agreed to the vacation rental’s terms and conditions.

When someone signs up for AirBNB and most other online platforms, they must first agree to the company’s Terms of Service. But did the Texas couple agree to be spied on?

The couple, known only as John and Jane Doe were at the Supreme Court of Florida with an uphill argument: Giving away their legal rights to a third party was not clearly stated.

“They give the power to an arbitrator to make a decision, but it’s not supposed to displace the trial court’s inherent authority to make that decision too,” said attorney Tom Seider, who is representing the couple.

AirBNB’s attorney disagreed. “Terms of Service begins with all capital letters. Read these terms of service. Your legal rights and remedies are limited,” said AirBNB attorney Joel Perwin.

The Supreme Court Justices asked why the language wasn’t more clear.

“Just three or four, five, six, seven more words that basically say your arbitrator is going to decide whether he or she gets the case or not,” said Justice Jorge Labarga.

The spy cameras weren’t mentioned in court at all Wednesday, and won’t ever get before a judge unless the Supreme Court decides the terms and conditions weren’t as clear as they could be.

Afterward, the couple’s attorney said they knew they were giving up some rights, but not others.

“Our contract doesn’t talk about surveillance. It says we’ll arbitrate claims over deposits or if the property doesn’t match up with what we saw online. So we agreed to arbitrate those claims. We didn’t agree to arbitrate whether we were illegally surveilled,” said Seider.

On their website, Airbnb makes its stance on the surveillance of guests by hosts very clear:

“We require hosts to disclose all security cameras and other recording devices in their listings, and we prohibit any security cameras and other recording devices that are in or that observe the interior of certain private spaces [such as bedrooms and bathrooms], regardless of whether they’ve been disclosed. Intentionally concealed recording devices (such as hidden security cameras) are never permitted.”

Only one of at least three Florida appellate courts has ruled against AirBNB in cases like this one. The different findings are why the case is before the Supreme Court. There’s no timetable for a ruling.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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