Anyone who has stayed in an Airbnb can tell you that they come in all shapes and sizes. Mostly, what people want is somewhere that is clean, well-kept and safe. Unfortunately, one Indiana couple were disturbed to discover that their particular room may have been the den of a “video voyeur.”
Picking a place on Airbnb is pretty straightforward. First you decide what region or area you would like to stay in, then you pick the room or private house that fits your needs. Coupled with the comments section, which allows you to see what other guests have said about the rental, your decision is usually a simple one.
As a result of its ease of use, Airbnb has spread all over the globe. In essence, its popularity is down to two things: the income it offers people who own space they aren’t using, and the variety of accommodation available to travellers. However, because it is primarily ordinary people who run them, on occasion there are downsides to Airbnbs.
As a result, sometimes guests come away with horror stories of strange places they’ve stayed. Other times, it’s the hosts who end up victims of unscrupulous guests damaging the owner’s property. Significantly, although Airbnb does have legal guidelines, hosts and guests could conceivably be offered more protection.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising that guests can sometimes rent a poorly maintained room. In this case, it might be because the bad reviews can sometimes mingle with the good ones. Consequently, people rent the room or space without knowing about any unpleasant incidents experienced by previous guests.
However, this isn’t what happened to Derek Starnes and his wife, who hail from Indiana. In fact, the condominium they had chosen to rent in Longboat Key, Florida, had been listed on Airbnb for two whole years. Thus the place had already likely received many satisfied guests, with nothing untoward found.
With that in mind, Starnes had booked the Airbnb without concern. In spite of this, he was about to discover an unpleasant truth about the condominium, or its master bedroom to be more precise. That is to say, partway through their rental, Starnes noticed something not quite right with a smoke detector.
What Starnes saw was an odd black hole on the side of the unit. Puzzled, he disconnected it and took it down, whereupon his worst fears were realized. Starnes had found a little camera, recording everything that happened in the master bedroom.
What’s more, instead of transmitting the footage, the camera was recording it onto an SD card. Subsequently, the couple called police who made another disturbing discovery. Chiefly, that the camera Starnes discovered wasn’t the only one on the property; there was another in the living room, too.
A report on Longboat Key News claimed that the living room camera was pointed at the sofa and dining room table. The one that Starnes discovered was facing the bed in the master bedroom. Both cameras, which also provided HD audio, were hidden inside smoke detectors.
Lieutenant Bob Bourque, of Longboat Key Police Department, said, “We seized a lot of computer storage data devices, hard drives, computers, laptops, SD cards, anything that would store data.” Conceivably, authorities could use anything found in any future case against the Airbnb listing owner.
That owner is Wayne Natt. In view of what police found at his property, Natt was charged with one count of video voyeurism. Conversely, Natt claimed that the cameras were only ever used to record consensual sex parties he held at the property, separate and unconnected to his use of it as an Airbnb property.
Bourque said, “He says that everyone videoed had knowledge he was videoing them. What we said to that was, if people are consenting to recording sexual activity why is it hidden in a smoke alarm? He said it was for recording sexual activity.”
Although Natt claimed that the cameras were in smoke detectors because it “gave him a better angle,” police are wondering if more people are affected. Bourque said, “We don’t know if there are local victims, someone who may have been dating him or a companion that doesn’t realize they are being videotaped.”
Police acknowledged that if Natt was indeed guilty, then other Airbnb guests may have been recorded without their knowledge. Additionally, Derek Starnes said, “My wife and I are distressed by this situation. I hope more victims will come forward.”
Natt maintains his innocence and insists he did not record any Airbnb guests. However, Starnes has released an image of himself and his wife discovered on the SD card. The picture shows the couple looking up at the smoke detector in the master bedroom.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the extent of the footage discovered on the SD card. Starnes was also recorded walking around naked in the bedroom, while audio recordings picked up him and his wife chatting together.
When asked for a comment, Ben Breit, a press secretary at Airbnb, said, “We are outraged at the reports of what happened; as soon as we were made aware, we permanently banned this individual from our community and fully supported the affected guests.”
Furthermore, Breit added, “Our team has reached out to local law enforcement to aid them with their investigation of this egregious offense and we hope justice is served. We take privacy issues extremely seriously and have a zero-tolerance policy against this behavior.”
Ultimately, it remains to be seen what the outcome of this case will be. Mindful there may be other affected parties, police have urged people who have stayed at Natt’s Longboat Keyscondo to get in touch. Prior to the Starnes’ visit, the listing had had over 40 reviews on Airbnb. Whether theirs is an isolated case remains to be seen.