If you're heading to somebody else's home for the holidays, you may be thinking about hiring a house sitter so that your place doesn't sit empty while you're gone. While that's a great way to make your home a less inviting target for thieves and keeps you from having to board the cat, it can open you up to a couple of different legal problems. Follow these tips so that you don't end up with an unwelcome holiday surprise:

Screen the house sitter carefully.

It's probably cheaper to hire the neighbor's son or daughter to drop in on a daily basis and watch over the house than it is to hire a more mature, full-time house sitter -- but the full-time sitter may end up being the better bargain in the end.

If your neighbor's teen decides that your house makes the perfect party place while you're out of town, you could end up being liable for any injuries or damages that result through the theory of negligent entrustment. It's even possible that your neighbors could end up suing you if their teen ends up hurt as a result.

Negligence is the basis behind many personal injury lawsuits -- it's essentially the legal definition of poor judgment. Negligent entrustment occurs when you show poor judgement by giving someone access to something that could hurt them. In this case, your otherwise empty property (including a possibly full liquor cabinet), could constitute a "dangerous" item.

Be careful with the nanny cameras.

Given how easy it is to install digital monitoring devices just about anywhere these days, you may be tempted to monitor your house sitter through "nanny" cameras or similar devices. For the most part, this is legal to do, but make sure that you follow some important guidelines:

  • Make sure that you don't put cameras in bathrooms or the house sitter's designated bedroom. That's one form of an invasion of privacy and could open you up to a lawsuit. Keep the cameras focused on areas of the house where people are normally expected to be dressed and not engaged in private activities.

  • Don't include audio recording unless you are sure that it is legal in your state. In some states it is isn't legal to make audio recordings of someone without his or her express permission. These are called two-party consent laws. Violating the law in this area could open you up to both a civil lawsuit for invasion of privacy and criminal charges for violating federal and state wiretapping laws.

It's always wisest to hire someone that you personally know and trust -- but if this isn't possible, try to get someone who has references that you can check before you hire him or her. Make sure that there's no legal trouble in his or her past that could be used to question your judgement later if something should happen. If you have guns or alcohol in your home, lock those up and don't hire anyone under age 21 as a house sitter, just in case. For more information, talk to a personal injury lawyer.