TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) – On Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed in Travis County against two homeowners and Vrbo, a vacation rental platform, after a camera was found inside of a rented vacation property in Comfort, Texas in August 2020.
Comfort is about 20 miles south of Fredericksburg.
After staying at the property, police informed the plaintiffs 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. Authorities confirmed on July 11 that the investigation is ongoing.
“These were cameras directed in the bedroom to capture illicit footage, and that’s what it did,” said Kristina Baehr of Just Well Law. She represents the plaintiffs, 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.
Vrbo’s corporate headquarters are in downtown Austin.
“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 stated 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.