Privacy-safe noise monitoring is one of the most important property technologies in the short-term vacation-rental sector. By monitoring volume levels without identifying or recording sounds, privacy-safe noise detection helps protect the property owner’s investment and the guest’s right to complete privacy. But how does it work? And what are the ultimate benefits of safe noise monitoring for rental hosts, property managers, vacation-rental guests, and neighbors living near short-term-rental homes?
Airbnb, VRBO and other short-term-rental platforms include noise-device disclosure requirements in their policies. This means that any rental equipped with noise detection must have that information in the rental listing. It will usually be included along with information about wifi, carbon monoxide detectors and security cameras.
Guest tip: If you are looking at short-term-rental listings and see “equipped with noise-detection device” or similar wording, make sure to ask the host if the device is a NoiseAware privacy-safe sensor. That way, you can rest assured that only decibels are being measured, that you and your guests are not being recorded, and that your privacy is truly protected.
A common misconception about noise detection is that it can “hear” and identify specific sounds. This is not true of privacy-safe noise detection. A privacy-safe noise device tracks decibels, which are the units used to measure the amplitude of a sound relative to other sounds. A privacy-safe noise device can tell how loud a noise is in the room or outdoor space where it is installed. But it cannot distinguish if the sound is shouting, amplified music, a TV set, fireworks or an orchestra of vuvuzelas. And yes, that means it also cannot identify if the sound is of a more intimate nature, whether in the bathroom, bedroom or elsewhere.
Legitimate privacy-safe noise measurement does not just measure the volume level of noise. If it did, it would trigger an alert every time a guest sneezed or shouted or popped a balloon. NoiseAware noise-detection technology, for example, uses a proprietary algorithm called the Noise Risk Score (NRS). This algorithm tracks not only how loud a sound is, but also the duration of the loud sound. The algorithm combines this information with a number of other factors to determine the contextual risk of the noise being excessive and disruptive.
Another misconception is that all noise devices record noise. This is absolutely not true with reputable privacy-safe noise-detection devices. This type of privacy-compliant noise monitoring measures decibels. But it does not and cannot record sounds. NoiseAware noise detection, which does not identify specific sounds or records sounds, uses an anonymizing function for converting sound into data. The system can identify noise risk but cannot be used to eavesdrop on guests. It is certified as privacy safe by the Federal Communications Commission.
With NoiseAware noise detection, if the NRS exceeds levels allowed by the owner’s “house rules” and/or by local noise ordinance, the noise detection mobile app alerts the property owner or manager. At that point, the owner or manager may send a text to the guest asking them to lower the volume.
Just as short-term-rental guests have a right to privacy, neighbors have a right to peace and quiet. By informing guests about excessive noise before it gets out of hand, privacy-safe noise detection gives guests a chance to lower the volume on their own. How many times have you gathered with friends or family to eat, drink and have fun, and simply not realized how loud you’d gotten as the celebration ramped up? In most cases, excessive environmental noise is simply a matter of guests being unaware that they’re being as loud as they are. A simple text reminder can bring the situation to their attention before a neighbor—or, worse, a uniformed guard or cop—comes knocking at the door.
Property owners can use noise monitoring to protect their properties against false complaints. Sometimes, neighbors don’t like living next to a property that is permitted as a short-term rental. They may have had problems with noise at the rental in the past, or they simply may want to get the property shut down as a short-term rental, even if it’s not a “party house” or source of excessive noise. While privacy-safe noise detection does not record sounds, it does store data about decibel levels, which can later be used to defend against false noise complaints. Often, simply letting neighbors know that your property is equipped with a noise monitoring device will deter them from making false complaints. In the event that a neighbor does complain, being able to show your neighbor (or the police, or the county permitting board) hard data to the contrary will resolve the issue.
But it’s not just property owners who benefit from protection against false complaints. Guests can be fined for violating “house rules” that are included in booking agreements. Guests are also subject to guest reviews on listing platforms like Airbnb, which can affect their future ability to book short-term rentals. Neighbor complaints can result in both fines and negative guest reviews, even when a complaint is false. But with the data provided by a privacy-safe noise detection system, guests can prove they did not cause excessive noise.
Hollywood, Fla. is one of a number of cities that have started requiring owners to show evidence of a properly installed noise-detection device in order to obtain a short-term-rental license. Many cities and counties across the country are currently considering similar requirements, and will vote on these later this year or early in 2022. As people who have been cooped up for months find themselves bitten by the “revenge travel” bug—eager to get away, let loose and live it up—demand for vacation rentals will continue to grow. So will demand for ways to prevent out-of-control noise, frustrated neighbors and trashed properties.
Privacy-safe noise monitoring is the least invasive, most efficient solution to all three of these problems. So if you’re a staying in a short-term rental and you see that little sensor on the wall, don’t start thinking of ways you can pry it off and toss it in the swimming pool (you can’t, btw, without damaging the hardware, alerting the property owner and likely being fined big bucks). Instead, recognize that just like a smoke detector, a privacy-safe noise device is there to protect you and your guests—in this case, from expensive fines and unwelcome intrusions. It’s there to protect the rental’s neighbors from aggravating, stressful late-night noise. And it’s there to protect the space you’re celebrating in from permit violations and damage, so that it can continue to be occupied and enjoyed.