Surveilling housesitters without their knowledge...
July 5, 2015 6:00 AM   Subscribe

So, I own a house. My three kids and I went away on vacation leaving my very needy dogs in the care of a housesitter. The housesitter was an acquaintance: a good friend of a good friend, but someone that I had only personally met a few times. I have non-obvious cameras in my house. Not in the private areas like the bathroom or bedrooms, but in public areas like the living room and kitchen. I, perhaps stupidly, did not tell the housesitter about these cameras and then, guiltily, reviewed the footage upon returning home. Now I don't know what to do.

I don't want to be too specific because of anonymity, but let's assume that I witnessed at least one of the following:

-Them stealing a few dollars from my change bowl
-Them pouring themselves a drink from an expensive bottle of scotch
-Them going through the drawers of my desk
-Them sitting on my living room couch naked and masturbating
-Them urinating in my kitchen sink
-Them striking my dogs with a rolled up newspaper

Where is the line at which their crime is greater than the crime I committed by spying on them. More importantly, where do you draw the line between:

-forgetting about it
-refusing further contact with this acquaintance without explaining yourself to the mutual friend.
-bringing up the footage to the acquaintance/mutual friend
-retaining a lawyer
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (50 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Forget about it, don't ask them to petsit again. They're not your good friend, they're your friends good friend. Don't bring it up with your friend.

In the future (if you didn't already) explicitly tell pet sitters what is on and off limits. Personally I'd lock up expensive liquor and if you don't want to change bowl to be used for, say, change to tip the pizza guy put that away as well.

Tell future pet sitters about the webcams. Expect a number of them to bow out of the gig because of it.
posted by arnicae at 6:08 AM on July 5, 2015 [35 favorites]

I really don't know how much force a rolled-up newspaper can convey, or much about dog physiology and how much that could hurt or injure the dog, but that would be the only case in which I would even consider the "crime" to come anywhere close to yours.

Holy shit. I'm assuming retaining a lawyer would be in case the housesitter finds out you were spying, right?
posted by cogitron at 6:08 AM on July 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

It is your own private home and you trusted this person with your keys, your home, your possessions, and your dogs. Stop feeling bad about looking at the security footage. That's what it is, that's what it's there for. If not "to make sure your home and your dogs are OK when you're not there," then when?

If I were you I would go zero contact immediately with this acquaintance and try to drop it and move on. Only if I got shit about it from the mutual friend, or if the friend tried to invite the acquaintance over to your house for some reason, would I bring up what you know. And I'd just say straight up, "my security cameras caught them stealing/jerking it/hitting my dog when they house sat for me. It was a huge violation of trust and I don't want that person in my life."
posted by phunniemee at 6:10 AM on July 5, 2015 [49 favorites]

According to this link, it's legal. However, I wouldn't retai. A lawyer.
posted by amro at 6:10 AM on July 5, 2015

Uh, it's not a crime to record video in your own house. If you're using "crime" figuratively because you feel guilty about this, don't! It sounds like you caught the housesitter doing something inappropriate, so it's a good thing you know not to hire this person again.

As far as what to do, none of the list of things you mention really constitutes a significant injury to you, so I'm not sure why you would need a lawyer. I might tell the mutual friend about items 4 or 5, but I wouldn't worry too much about items 1,2,3, or 6.
posted by deadweightloss at 6:11 AM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Stealing a few dollars from my change bowl: meh.

Pouring themselves a drink from an expensive bottle of scotch: meh.

Going through the drawers of my desk: unless something of actual value was removed, meh.

Sitting on my living room couch naked and masturbating: meh. If it's leather, give it a wipe down.

Urinating in my kitchen sink: eww, a bit. Fill that up with hot water and a little bleach. This will make approximately zero difference to the actual bacterial load on your kitchen's working surfaces but you'll feel better afterwards.

Striking my dogs with a rolled up newspaper: stupid bastard. Check that the dog is now OK.

If I were in your shoes, I would not take this any further unless the mutual friend specifically asked about it, at which point I would say "yeah, no, I won't be getting X to do that again; last time, they nicked my change / drank my scotch / ransacked my desk / wanked on my couch / pissed in my sink / beat up my dogs. Security cam caught them at it. Don't want them alone in my home again."
posted by flabdablet at 6:12 AM on July 5, 2015 [64 favorites]

Whoops. I wouldn't retain a lawyer. This stuff is all pretty small and some of it (most?) isn't illegal. Just don't use this person as a petsitter again.
posted by amro at 6:12 AM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Well, what are the laws in your state? Often it is illegal to film anyone without posting notice.

I would delete the footage and absolutely act like this never ever happened. Of course you are no longer going to be close with any of these folks! That's the consequences.

Do you have a carpet steamer? They're like $50 to $100 bucks at Macy's. Vaccum and then steam the couch. Hug your dogs. Giveaway the bottle of scotch if it reminds you too much.

I'm sorry this happened. I don't see what you can do about it that won't put you in legal jeopardy or cause very high drama amongst your friend circle. Even if it was legal for you to tape this person secretly I still think you should keep your knowledge to yourself. No good can come of this. None.
posted by jbenben at 6:13 AM on July 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yikes, that's terrible. I will say that I've done a lot of petsitting, and though I would NEVER do any of these things, I also wouldn't want to housesit at a place where there was a camera, because it would make me feel awkward and uncomfortable about living my everyday life.

I believe nanny cams are legal (video only) in every state, though audio differs, but I'm not a lawyer. Regardless, I feel like you both acted in bad faith. Do whatever you need to to purify your space and try to let it go.

This makes me never want to rent out my apartment on Airbnb.
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:23 AM on July 5, 2015 [9 favorites]

Hitting the dog would be cause for me to drop this person from my life, immediately. I would not say anything about why, because in my book it was super-wrong of you to have left those cameras running without telling this person, much worse than anything that person did except maybe the dog thing. (And as noted, depending on where you live and whether you recorded sound, your recording was possibly illegal. I am not a lawyer but I do spend a fair amount of time for work talking with lawyers about legalities of secret audio recording in our state.) I don't see anything good that could possibly come from getting into it about what you did and why you are cutting off contact.

If the dog example did not actually happen then clean the sink well, don't have that person housesit again, set clear boundaries with future house sitters about your pets and booze, and don't spend any more mental energy on this,
posted by Stacey at 6:28 AM on July 5, 2015

I obviously have higher expectations of privacy than some people, because I think videotaping someone when they're alone in a private residence, without telling them, is totally skeevy. Yes, even if you own said residence. What if they had walked naked through the living room to get clothes from the laundry, or something? It's an invasion of privacy.

They did some unpleasant stuff, but so did you, IMO. I think you should drop it. And have the courtesy to tell the next house-sitter that you have CCTV.
posted by Salamander at 6:31 AM on July 5, 2015 [42 favorites]

You let this person stay in your house to take care of your dogs. If they indeed hit your dogs, make sure they are OK, then tell your friend that this trusted person hit your dogs. You don't have to say how you know. That's something people that are going to recommend someone as a pet sitter need to know.

As for recording in one's own home, I don't know what the norm is for pet sitting, but babysitters and nannies expect it. If it is not, then it was wrong for you to do, but you should try to make sure this person does not pet sit for anyone else regardless.
posted by ignignokt at 6:41 AM on July 5, 2015 [8 favorites]

You need to drop this like a hot potato and don't be tempted to pick it up once it cools.

There are 15 yard penalties on both sides of the ball, so I would consider them offsetting and just move on.
I would not tell your friend about the events.
I would not tell your friend anything unless they ask, and even then, I would keep it vague and neutral, as in "We've found someone/a service that we like better."

Move on dot org.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 6:43 AM on July 5, 2015 [13 favorites]

It is perfectly legal to make video-only recordings in your home, either with or without the housekeeper's knowledge or consent. I'm a bit surprised at the hand-wringing about it in this thread. At this point the technology is cheap and it's a common practice in many homes. I have friends, for example who have an inexpensive system that only saves video when there is movement. They use it to check up on their dog for the most part, but the system is always on by default. A housekeeper should have no more expectation that they are not being recorded in the public areas of the house than someone at work in an office building. I would always assume there was some level of monitoring if I were house sitting. And it's not like the OP set it up specifically for this house sitter.

Depending on the severity of the transgression, I think there are ways to make this known to your friend. For example, if you had noticed that your dog was acting funny or that your change bowl seemed light or that your scotch bottle was a little low, these would all be reasons you might have checked the video logs.
posted by slkinsey at 7:03 AM on July 5, 2015 [16 favorites]

I don't want to be too specific because of anonymity, but let's assume that I witnessed at least one of the following:

The only one of these I would be concerned about at a real level is not treating your dogs properly. All of the rest of them, to me, are just "Eh housesitters are sometimes weird and test boundaries" situations. I'd not hire that housesitter again and maybe tell your friend you weren't happy with their work. It's unclear to me if you paid this person or if this was one of those "You can crash at my house for free as long as you take care of the dogs" thing. I'd expect much better behavior from someone hired to take care of pets than someone crashing in exchange for pet attention.

Next time there are steps you can take to prevent some of those things if they concern you. I would delete the surveillance footage ASAP especially if you really do have photos of the housesitter masturbating and/or peeing into the sink. I don't know the legalities of taking video in your own home (others can speak to that) but feel that having/keeping a video of someone masturbating/peeing might cross over into some sort of problematic area legally as well as ethically.
posted by jessamyn at 7:06 AM on July 5, 2015 [14 favorites]

To decide whether to tell your mutual friend or not, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? I happen to think the answer to all 3 questions here is yes, but ONLY for telling your mutual friend who referred this guy to you and ONLY for the purpose of convincing your mutual friend to stop referring this guy to people. In your mutual friend's shoes I'd want to know!

"Mutual friend, this is extremely awkward but it needs to be said: it's definitely best if you don't recommend acquaintance do any home or pet sitting anymore, because when I trusted him in my home alone he crossed some major boundaries on me, and so I won't be having him back." If pressed for specifics, "he hit my dog with a rolled up newspaper, went through my private desk drawers, and urinated in my kitchen sink." Do not ever mention the masturbation on the couch-- it would be both unnecessary and unkind.
posted by hush at 7:10 AM on July 5, 2015 [13 favorites]

Seconding hush - I would tell my mutual friend about the change-stealing, urinating and especially the dog abuse, because a good friend would not want to recommend this guy as a house-sitter anymore.

While the masturbation and scotch-drinking are not a big deal, the theft of small change is, to me - I want to trust that people who share my space aren't going to steal my stuff. Ditto peeing in the sink - what, he couldn't walk a few feet down the hall to the bathroom? "Don't steal" and "don't pee in the sink" are basic manners that anyone not raised by wolves ought to follow. As for hitting the dog, that is just plain wrong. Shun this acquaintance.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:26 AM on July 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm with Jessamyn. The dog-hitting would really bother me (though there is a huge difference between a casual swat and a beating), while the rest is more in the "gross and weird things that people do in private" category. I agree with her suggestion to delete the footage, and then you can simply cut this person out of your life entirely, no explanations needed.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:33 AM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

No, you should not retain a lawyer because there is nothing to retain a lawyer for. You're not going to press criminal charges over a few bucks and a shot.

You should immediately drop this person from your social list. You should tell your mutual friend that she should not recommend this person for house sitting or pet sitting any longer.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:35 AM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

don't want to be too specific because of anonymity, but let's assume that I witnessed at least one of the following

The items on the list are wildly different. The only one I would be livid at is hitting dogs.

Masturbating in the living room -- that's a terrible violation of someone's privacy especially having gotten it on camera. I would destroy that tape in a firestorm if I were in possession of it, just on that person's behalf and the knowledge of how far a thing like that can go these days.

All of those things together...let it go. And God, get rid of that tape.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:42 AM on July 5, 2015 [7 favorites]

Er...yeah, what Jessamyn said.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:45 AM on July 5, 2015

Professional dog walker/pet sitter here.
I'm speaking only for myself, and not the profession, but I always assume that I'm on camera and act accordingly. Most of my clients do not inform me either way. I prefer to be told there's a cam, I also prefer they have a cam. I'm great at my job, but it still takes a ton of the anxiety out of my job to have a second set of eyes looking in every so often, and having opened the door dozens of times to see Dog Ate Wrong Thing, it's great to have video documentation of how that came to be.
Regardless, it's their house. Their rules. Their comfort. I'm being paid, by them, to do my job: keep their family members safe and well. One of the things about my job is that often the person hiring me doesn't know me very well. Cameras can take a lot of anxiety about me off the client's plate, and that helps me do my job.
So, that's a long way of saying: I don't think you did anything wrong recording them, and I wouldn't be personally bothered about not being told about the cameras. However, it would help me do my job to know that they were there.
In terms of what to do moving forward, I probably wouldn't say anything specific about the non-dog abuse to your friend, because there's no way that friend isn't going to be like "What the hell, sinkpisser?" to his friend, and then it's A Thing in your friend group.
I might say: "A neighbor saw ___ use a rolled up newspaper on my dogs, and I don't like that, so I'm not going to work with him again."
Don't mention the cameras to your buddy. Do mention them to future pet sitters.
posted by qnarf at 9:23 AM on July 5, 2015 [14 favorites]

It sounds like the cameras are legal, but I think you should stop using them. I used to dogsit regularly for a friend, and while I was always respectful of their belongings, I did... live in their house. I showered in the bathroom and walked to the bedroom naked to get dressed. I did all the random, unthinking things you do when you're alone and don't have to worry about other people. I'd feel so violated if I found out that they'd had hidden cameras. I don't think it's ethical to have housesitters under surveillance without their knowledge, and I don't think many people would take a housesitting job if they were told they'd be filmed.

I think what you do with the information you have is this: find a dogsitter you feel confident you can trust--someone you know well, and have spoken to about things like how to respond when the dogs are misbehaving. And make your expectations explicit--is the change bowl fair game for takeout money? can they drink from the liquor cabinet? Because, yeah, your dogsitter did something(s) they shouldn't have, but there's no way to act on that information without doing worse damage--and, really, unless your dogs seem injured or traumatized, I don't think there'd be any point. If your problem is a housesitter who doesn't respect your property, the solution is to find a different housesitter.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:24 AM on July 5, 2015 [7 favorites]

For the future: There are plenty of bonded and insured petsitting services out there. Look into getting one of those lined up. Either that or kennel the dogs at a reputable place.

Also, if you're concerned about leaving the house unattended because someone might break in, call the local police and tell them you will be away and can they keep an eye on the property. A home security system can be a good deterrent to criminal activity too. Lights on timers, leave the car in the driveway, leave the stereo or TV on.

Arms-length transactions (meaning paid services by business associates, not barter among friends or casual acquaintances) are your friends in this realm. If something goes wrong you'll have better recourse.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 9:27 AM on July 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I basically expect a housesitter to do almost all of those things. The exception is hitting your dogs! The only job they have, as far as I'm concerned, is the health and safety of my animals. A glass of scotch, a few bucks left in a change bowl, masturbating? None of that is beyond the pale unless I've specifically asked them not to. They have the entire house to themselves! Why wouldn't they masturbate in the living room? But if you pee in a sink, you had better also clean it. That's disgusting. But again, we've had whole threads here where people talk about how they pee in their own sinks. It apparently does not gross our everyone.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:29 AM on July 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

All of the rest of them, to me, are just "Eh housesitters are sometimes weird and test boundaries" situations.

I agree with this. Hitting the dog is the only thing that I would really have a serious issue with, because the one value this person has been asked to deliver is to take care of the dog. If you had not given direct instructions about when corporal punishment can be used with the dog (for instance, if you are trying to set consistent boundaries for the dog about peeing on the floor or something), they completely overstepped in a way that would make me worry about further abuse and is pretty much the opposite of "taking care."

I think that drinking some booze, especially non-problematically (like, not all the booze or an entire bottle) is within the range of normal housesitter perks that someone might expect unless you've asked them not to. Similar to eating food in the fridge and cabinets. Masturbating is something people do and might do in private by many people anywhere they have no reason to think a camera is watching them. Going through the drawers of your desk is also something housesitters do sometimes. People are curious and also bored. Peeing in the sink is something that seems weird to me - but weird in a 'hmm, this person seems to have some unusual psychology' way, not in a press-charges or ruin-their-reputation way. Stealing change could be indicative that they need money and can't resist and think you won't miss it, or indicative of more psychological-neediness stuff.

So, you have one behavior that would for me be a dealbreaker (dog hitting), three behaviors that are within the realm of normal for a housesitter who doesn't think anyone could be watching (booze, drawer-rifling, masturbating) and two that are indicative of some weirdness (sink-peeing, taking money). If it's the dealbreaker one or the weirdness one, it's enough to not want the person in your house again ever. I think that the 'casual' variety of pickup housesitter (friend-of-a-friend, local-college-student, etc.) is likely enough to do some of the realm-of-normal behaviors. In future you might want to go with a professional housesitter (licensed, bonded, etc.) and give clearer instructions about what is on and off limits. You might want to put away or lock up stuff you don't want anyone taking, like money, booze, high-value jewelry (even good housesitters can have sketchy friends - just remove the temptation). You might want to lock desk drawers or rooms where you have personal/sensitive stuff.
posted by Miko at 9:33 AM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Why wouldn't they masturbate in the living room?

Because of society, George.

Firmly on team "ew" on this one.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:36 AM on July 5, 2015 [19 favorites]

I have house-sat before; I recognize that ALL of the things on your list are NOT COOL.

Maturbating on the sofa of the house you're sitting? NOT COOL. Not only is it not cool it is really rather disrespectful. I'm surprised at so many folks saying meh about this because NOT COOL.

I mean, really.

Urinating in the kitchen sink? I would die a thousand deaths. Yuck.

The dog thing would incense me.

As would the drawer-riffling and, to a lesser extent, the scotch-drinking. (I kind of feel like if someone is house-sitting, part of the deal is making sure there is coke/snacks/beer or whatnot for them to help themselves to.)

I like Major Matt Mason Dixon's advice above, because it handles things discretely.

And in future, let people know you have a camera setup in your home. It's only polite.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:40 AM on July 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

Ew, I think it's super-creepy that you recorded this person. It sounds like you feel that way too.

People do all kinds of things when they're alone and assume no-one's watching, like dancing or eating with their fingers or scratching their ass. Personally, I'd be furious and embarrassed, and would feel really violated, if somebody recorded me without my knowledge. (I say this as a person who recently had a little Tove Lo singalong and realised afterwards there were probably cameras around, eesh.)

So yeah. I'd say just don't hire this person again, if what they did bothered you, and don't tell anyone else why. Delete the video and forget about it. And in future, tell people ahead of time that you have cameras.
posted by Susan PG at 10:26 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

(Just to be clear, I think recording people is creepy, period. I wouldn't do it and I don't think other people should do it. The reason you should tell people you're recording them is so they can bow out if they want and are able to, and conduct themselves accordingly if they aren't bothered or have no alternative. But I think this kind of surveillance is totally gross. Just because we can, doesn't mean we should.)
posted by Susan PG at 10:32 AM on July 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

Solve the camera thing for the future by posting a little sign near the front door that states that the property is secured by video surveillance.

As for your list - they're all either illegal, inappropriate, or just plain rude.
How would you react if they'd been a guest in your home and you'd walked in on them doing the exact same thing?

If you think they might be recommended to other people to house/dog sit, consider how you will handle it if you're asked to give references... you pretty much have three options:
- refuse to give a reference at all,
- lie and tell them it was fine,
- tell the truth, with whatever detail you're comfortable with. This could range from the simple "No, there were problems, so I wouldn't hire this person again." to "No, there was inappropriate behavior that occurred that put my pets and property at risk."
posted by stormyteal at 10:41 AM on July 5, 2015

I would be upset that you recorded me because although I am dog sitting at your house, I still expect that you aren't going to take recordings of me while I'm naked. I would be extremely uncomfortable if I knew you were in possession of naked pictures of me. I have sometimes walked through rooms in my house naked in situations where I forgot something in another room after I'd already undressed for a shower.

On the other hand, I don't think I'd do any of the things this dog sitter may have done. I'm sorry, it's disrespectful and disgusting to be naked and masturbate on someone else's couch. Why couldn't (s)he use the bed, which has washable sheets? The peeing in the sink equally disgusting and makes me think there is something very off about the person. Basically, I would be extremely upset about either of these things to the point where I would mention it to the friend who recommended the dog sitter. Both are extremely disrespectful and would make me feel like my house was violated.

The other things with the exception of the dog hitting, I would overlook.

I would have to see the video to know how bad the dog hitting was. Was it a tap to scare the dog or was it something that could have hurt the dog? The former I would attribute to ignorance and the latter to cruelty. Either way, I would not hire this person again.

I would mention to the friend the dog hitting if it was the type that could have hurt the dog. I would mention the masturbating and the urinating too. These are the types of things I would not want in my home and I feel like the friend should be aware so as not to recommend this person again.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:44 AM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Another vote for bonded petsitters in the future. Otherwise I would drop it unless pressed by the person who did the housesitting, not by your mutual acquaintance. At this point whatever damage is done, is done and you might want to avoid angering someone who has had this much access to your personal information.
posted by BibiRose at 11:10 AM on July 5, 2015

Everyone will have different boundaries about this stuff. For me, things I would do as the sitter = maybe having a glass of scotch, if I wasn't being paid a professional wage, and I would also assume that would be cool. Otherwise if was my capital-"J" job , no I would never do that.

I wouldn't look through people's drawers only because I'm just not that curious in that way; I'm not the type that opens the medicine cabinet in the bathroom of a home I'm visiting when I go to the bathroom, unless I need something for some reason (emergency aspirin, dental floss or mouthwash, forgot deodorant or whatever) – but I would be 100% unsurprised if someone did it at my house because I think I'm way off norm on this one.

Peeing in the sink is totally disgusting, and I can't imagine whether it's "Fuck this person I'm housesitting for, Ima fucking pee in their fucking sink because Fuck Them!!" or just "der wuh? Problem??? I do this all the time at home!" I figure the masturbation thing is that they were watching a video and, again, doing stuff the way they do at home. The change bowl thing might be they were trying to rip you off in small ways (in which case you may discover more missing as time goes on) or that they were buying something that they thought of as something "for the house" as opposed to their own private consumption. Why pay from your own money for, I don't know, dish soap or garbage bags or whatever that you are going to leave at the house if you are a temp person? Just guessing about that. It could just be extremely petty theft.

The dog thing would be my really big problem, and I think this person should not be dogsitting, period. But you didn't describe them as a dogsitter, you described them as a housesitter, so it's a little unclear to me. If the emphasis is on getting someone experienced, familiar, educated, and good/loving with dogs, and they are hired on that assumption and on that basis, then this is outrageous. If it was like, "be a housesitter and btw, also take care of the dogs, tx!" it's not so surprising. Someone could be like, "oh yeah, I like dogs, no problemo!" but know nothing about "positive reinforcement," etc., and just basically have no idea and feel like swatting with the rolled up newspaper is super okay and normal.

You should tell your friend that their friend should not be a dogsitter, but not go into the rest of the stuff with them. "They were seen hitting the dogs with a rolled up newspaper," both tells the truth and avoids the messy details.
posted by taz at 11:20 AM on July 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'll chime in with a different view, I don't think you were wrong to not tell about security cameras in your place. It would subvert their purpose. Assuming that they were actually needed, telling someone about them would only lead them to look for them and do whatever nefarious stuff they were going to do off camera.

You're not a government entity, subverting democracy. I'll assume, until it's demonstrated otherwise, that you were not specifically trying to capture footage of them naked---it would be different if you hid, say, a bathroom cam.

Whether or not you are "wrong" for recording them, they are still responsible for their actions. Two things can be wrong at the same time, wrongness does not cancel out. Hitting dogs is shitty. Hitting dogs you're dog sitting because you think no-one's going to witness and therefore call you out on it? Awful.

Someone else's living room is not a polite place to sit your naked ass and risk getting jizz and ass-butt in the upholstery, whether or not they're there to witness it.

Oh dang, were the dogs in the room? I just thought about that and got super skeezed.

Maybe not telling them was impolite, but that's as wrong as I can muster feeling about it. Did you not tell them from some lingering suspicion about how they'd act around your dogs and property? Congrats on trusting your gut. I wouldn't talk about what you know, but now you know important things about their behavior and morals.

Unless your dogs seem traumatized or you get identity theft in the next few months, do not take this further and neither mention anything regarding it, nor hang out with the person again. I would delete the nude footage; if by incredibly bizarre circumstance it became necessary to show the footage to anyone else, their behavior was damning enough without the complications of blackmail-level footage. In this totally unlikely hypothetical scenario of the existence of the sitter's behavior getting out, you're on the moral high ground for neither mentioning nor retaining the nude footage.

Think of the scotch and change as how much it cost to find out what their true character is---because what is character but what we do when we don't think someone is looking?
posted by wires at 11:20 AM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sorry this experience was so bad for you. I have to wonder why you watched-- was stuff obviously missing, were your dogs acting strange? If you watched just to see everything that happened without cause to believe something was wrong, that does strike me as invasive since you didn't inform them they were on camera and that you'd be reviewing their entire stay. (I'm not saying it's not your right to do so, and I get that's what the cameras are for; it's just not what I would expect but maybe I'm naive.)

One of the benefits of having cams is that if you tell the housesitter you have cams, they will not do things like pee in the sink or masturbate or go through drawers. These strike me as foul and disrespectful but I would NOT want to know this went on in my home, much less see them on video. What I don't know doesn't hurt me kind of thing.

The scotch and the change bowl are also borderline for me, depending on whether there were ground rules about what was on and off-limits. (Also, depends what the change is for-- if I am in your home for the night and there is no food for me and I send out for pizza and need money for the tip, or if I needed to buy something for the house, to me that doesn't feel the same as just grabbing money because I wanted some free money, you know? I'm not saying I would do it but there are shades of grey here.)

Dog-hitting is the thing I couldn't overlook, unless the dogs were attacking or in danger something. You call this person a housesitter and not a petsitter; are there people on this earth who are just so inexperienced with animals they see this as a valid technique, provided it's not a hard hit? Yikes.

That said, I think the surveillance is actually a red herring here-- definitely don't hire or socialize with this person again, definitely say "I cannot recommend them" if questioned. No need to say "they piss in the sink and I have the pictures to prove it."
posted by kapers at 11:26 AM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

The petsitter has no reasonable expectation of privacy in non-bathroom areas of your house. end of story.

hitting dogs is never, ever okay. you need to bring this up to them and your friend.
posted by jayder at 11:38 AM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

IIs the person you recorded over 18? If not, then delete all the footage everywhere using a secure delete program. Probably safest if you delete it anyway.
posted by Sophont at 12:17 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

A housekeeper should have no more expectation that they are not being recorded in the public areas of the house than someone at work in an office building

While this might be true for a housekeeper (or a petsitter who isn't living at your home), I don't think it's true for a housesitter. If someone is living there, it's a completely different situation than if someone is stopping by for a couple of hours and then leaving. For the future, either inform the person of the camera or don't use it. Again, it may be legal, but it's creepy. If I'm housesitting, even if I'm just zoned out on your couch watching your TV I don't want you later watching that; it's my temporary home.

Agree that if the example of hitting your dog actually happened, you should bring it up. Otherwise, forget about it.
posted by three_red_balloons at 2:18 PM on July 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

You didn't intentionally arrange to spy on them. Let go of any guilt you have about that and use this experience to formulate some kind of reasonable policy going forward.

How much drama do you want to put up with over this? If you can fix everything (bleach the sink, etc) without getting into it with them, then do so. It sounds like never hiring them again and never inviting this heathen over again is very feasible. Only bring it up with the mutual friend if you have some really compelling reason to do so.

Consider it insider information. Knowledge is power. Knowledge obtained this way needs to be handled carefully. Try to find the way to use it that benefits you the most and hurts you the least. Clearly, some people will feel you are more in the wrong here than they are. So think carefully before you divulge this information and how you got it .
posted by Michele in California at 2:55 PM on July 5, 2015

The problem here is that, at least as posed, all of the examples are grey areas. While I disagree with corporal punishment of any sort except in cases of immediate danger, a light seat with a newspaper intended to startle, rather than hurt, a dog is seen by many as a perfectly valid form of discipline. Other people have covered the scotch and the change. Both could be totally not OK if the amounts involved were large, but a bit of change for a tip and/or a single drink from an open bottle don't strike me as beyond the pale for a nonprofessional housesitting situation.

As far as going through your drawers, for all you know they were looking for a letter opener, pair of scissors, scotch tape, batteries for the TV remote, etc. That is a perfectly reasonable thing to do in the context of housesitting, assuming there were not boundaries discussed beforehand. I'm of the opinion any potential privacy invasion in that is far outweighed by surreptitiously recording what is essentially a house guest. If your goal with the recording is to ensure that bad things don't happen, as opposed to playing some fucked up game of gotcha, informing them ahead of time is both good manners and will help to deter bad behavior.

Peeing in the sink and masturbating on the couch are both totally icky and somewhat inconsiderate, but aren't the sort of thing that is going to hurt anyone. This, of course, is assuming they didn't leave..evidence..behind.

In the end, I would not have this person housesit for me again, but more than anything I would take it as a lesson that a) I should disclose to my guests that they are being recorded, and b) discuss things like what household items are OK to use, what items are off limits (it's perfectly reasonable to ask that people not sample your liquor!) and what style of doggie parenting you expect to be used.

If this was a situation where the housesitter was being paid in more than a token way, the expectations are vastly different and most of what I said is inapplicable, other than the part about discussing the expectations beforehand. That is just good policy in any situation.
posted by wierdo at 3:52 PM on July 5, 2015 [7 favorites]

Use a licensed, bonded service next time. I know someone who owns such a service and they advise all sitters to behave as though all the houses have cams.
posted by SillyShepherd at 4:40 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know why you've given us a list of things they may or may not have done. I mean, did they do them or not? Next time use a professional pet sitter. Ask your friend to not recommend this person again. Drop it and move on.
posted by Jubey at 5:14 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a list of states where nanny cam's are NOT LEGAL without notice!

My state is on that list. That's why I knew OP should check before disclosing.

An asshole that would pee in your sink or hit your dog is an asshole that might sue you.

Take care, OP.
posted by jbenben at 8:30 PM on July 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

There's some not-great-but-not-earth-shattering stuff this acquaintance did while in your home. Then there's what you did, which is actually creepy, invasive, and possibly illegal depending on your jurisdiction. Sorry this happened, but my advice is to delete that footage ASAP, get a different housesitter, and put it behind you.
posted by naju at 9:43 PM on July 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

Looking at that link above(and knowing this because of past experiences) these recordings would only be a potential legal no-no if they had audio and you're in one of the states where prior notice is needed for that. If it's video only, no audio, then you didn't have to disclose anything.

That said... I wouldn't want to leave someone alone in my house that i felt the need to record. If i distrusted them enough to want to record them, why would i leave them alone in my house with all my stuff and my pet?

Find someone you actually trust to do this job. If you're an anxious person who can't trust anyone, find another solution(like boarding at a highly rated place, or having a family member stay over).

I am, by the way, also on team "they shouldn't have any expectation of privacy in your house in common areas" because it's not their fucking house. It's not even a house they were renting or anything, it's your house. I think any potential creepyness is completely squashed by the level of blasé feet-on-table assumption that it was their house as long as you weren't there.

Something in your gut told you that they weren't going to respect your space or your pet, and you were right. You had some kind of internal cue that this was wrong, you listened to it, and it was correct.

I am definitely not meh at anything on that list because i think it's all really fucking disrespectful ill-mannered-sack-of-shit territory behavior. Seriously. Drinking your booze, pissing in your sink, stealing your bus change, jacking off on your couch, going through your shit, and hitting your dog? Any one of these would, to me, be a pretty serious offense. As a group of behavior it basically just says "I don't respect this person or their house".

I'm kind of gobsmacked that so many people here aren't or wouldn't be upset at that. It's the attitude that's galling as much as the actual behavior.

What do you do? Just cut this person out of your life and never talk to them again. I wouldn't tell anyone about this video, and i'd just erase/delete it. If your friend asks just follow the suggestions above to say something to the effect of "eh, i found someone else for next time/my brothers staying over anyways". Just deflect and move on.

You are not weird or creepy or nitpicking for being upset by this stuff though. It's pretty bad.
posted by emptythought at 3:23 AM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a list of states where nanny cam's are NOT LEGAL without notice!

My state is on that list. That's why I knew OP should check before disclosing.

I don't think the linked page says what you think it says. The article states quite clearly that
It's legal to install a nanny cam in all 50 states, even if you choose to videotape your nanny without her consent. However, you can't tape her in private areas of your home, such as the bathroom or a live-in nanny's bedroom.
It then goes on to list states with notification/consent laws about audio recordings, and cautions about making video recordings that also include audio. This caution is of course worth noting, but very few systems of this kind record audio.

The point is that video-only recordings, with or without notification and consent, are legal in all 50 states.
posted by slkinsey at 7:23 AM on July 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

1. Really, you didn’t do anything morally wrong. You’re entitled to take reasonable measures to monitor the safety of your home and pets.
2. You (and your dogs) suffered some very small injuries, largely injuries to dignity. Although sometimes there is reason to pursue compensation through the legal system for injuries to dignity, it is probably not worth the time and effort it would take to acquire the compensation due to you (and your dogs). My judgment would change if your dogs suffered any injuries that lingered.
3. Striking your dogs, stealing your spare change, and rifling through your desk drawers are really your only injuries that take on any degree of significance. The other rude behavior doesn’t really harm you. But it is, of course, extraordinarily rude behavior (peeing in the sink???!!!), and I would certainly never let this person in my house ever again. You’re not obliged to provide a reason to this person, or to anyone else, about why you have made this decision.
4. Your friend isn’t really responsible for the bad behavior of his friend; I probably just wouldn’t bring it up.

In short: forgive, end relationship with house-sitter, don't forget.
posted by Mr. Justice at 11:42 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

If I were your friend I would definitely want to know about this so that I wouldn't put the housesitter in a position of trust again. If they ended up stealing from me, I would feel pretty annoyed with someone who knew about their thieving and animal-abusing history and withheld it. I expect more from a "good friend".
posted by grouse at 12:07 PM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

"The housesitter was an acquaintance: a good friend of a good friend, but someone that I had only personally met a few times."

You were absolutely right to have those "non-obvious cameras" in your house's "public areas like the living room and kitchen." Trust, but verify.

I disagree with the people here who say you behaved unethically and/or that you should've just hired someone you trust to watch your home and care for your "needy pets," and that should be sufficient enough so you don't need to use hidden cameras. Wrong. Your own good friend who is good friends with this guy vouched for him, and it turns out you were both way off base about his character, despite your friend knowing him so well.

Like you, I've certainly found my trust to be misplaced in the past, and I'm sure that will happen again. So I try to plan for it. A background check, references and a careful interview using Gavin de Becker's questions for sitters from Protecting the Gift are not enough to engender total, immediate trust in my book. Trust, but verify.

The truth is, vouched-for home/pet/babysitters who have been excellent in the past can change. They may have been great with cats but can't handle dogs. There is no way to really know what is going on with your precious dogs unless you WATCH. If you can't be there, a hidden, non-audio camera in your home's public spaces is perfectly legitimate. Your instincts were right on - stop thinking of yourself as some sort of a criminal.
posted by hush at 2:37 PM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

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