Thinking they were renting out their home to a few people attending a wedding, a Calgary family got much more than they bargained for.
Star and Mark King used the popular short-term leasing service Airbnb to advertise their home as a vacation rental. They agreed to rent to a group of four adults for one weekend. The group was supposedly travelling to Calgary to attend a wedding.
The Kings met the renters on a Friday evening to give them the keys. Within a few hours, Star says she started receiving texts from concerned neighbors. The police was dealing with a seemingly out-of-control party. A bus was reported to have brought over 100 partygoers to the family’s home, for what could only be described as a “drug-induced orgy.”
The Kings returned to beg partygoers to leave their home. They couldn’t believe what they saw; people were everywhere, the house completely trashed.
"We came and wished the home was burnt down to ashes. It would have felt way better," said King.
The destruction was extensive. Broken bottles and garbage littered the floors, furniture broken throughout the home, urine and vomit painted the walls. "Our hardwood floors are all popping because there are pools of liquor. There's glass shards, there's dent in our walls, toilets flooded and plugged with condoms," said one of the homeowners.
While police first estimated damage to be around $75,000, investigators are now valuing it in the $150,000 range. "In the 27 years of policing that I've done, I've never seen a home so badly damaged from a weekend party, and of course, with this kind of rental situation," said Staff Sgt. Jim Leung.
Meanwhile, the Kings can’t live in their home. Repairs may take up to three months to complete. “They’re going to have to take everything out of the house, treat it on site to kill the bio hazardous substances, before they can put it in the landfill,” said King.
The good news is Airbnb is stepping in and helping out. They are currently paying for the Kings’ lodging and meals while repairs are taking place. More importantly, they will cover the cost of all repairs.
Airbnb gives homeowners a Host Guarantee to cover such incidents. The policy provides coverage up to 1 million dollars "to eligible properties in the rare event of guest damages which are not resolved directly with the guest." Airbnb states that this policy is not intended to replace traditional insurance coverage. All property owners should have their own homeowners’ or landlords’ insurance policies, which can (but don’t always) cover damage from riots and tenants’ guests.
How common is it for renters to damage a vacation property? Fortunately, it does not happen often. "Over 35 million guests have stayed on Airbnb, and property damage is extremely rare," says Jakob Kerr, spokesman for Airbnb.
However, precautions should still be taken by all homeowners and landlords, regardless of how they market and lease out their properties. Owners should always use some form of tenant screening and vacation lease agreements. These services are sometimes offered by vacation rental providers. Still, homeowners may consider drafting their own policies for additional peace of mind.
For those who don’t use vacation sites, a vacation lease agreement is essential. If anything goes wrong, the signed agreement can be used as proof in legal proceedings.
It’s also important to collect a security deposit in case of damage. All security deposit requirements should be clearly indicated and explained in the rental listing. Check with state or province landlord-tenant acts to see if there are any laws to be aware of concerning the legalities of security deposits.
In case of an incident, homeowners and landlords should know what steps they need to take and what their options are. In case of emergency or criminal act, such as in the case with the Kings, police should be called. Then, homeowners need to contact their insurance providers and the customer service department of their rental website like Airbnb or VRBO if applicable.
Before cleaning it up or trying to repair it themselves, homeowners need to document the damage. They should take several pictures and find out if a police report will need to be submitted with a claim. Before and after pictures are also helpful. Owners who haven’t taken pictures of their vacation rental space in a while should take a few minutes to do so – current pictures could protect them later on.
If property damage is minimal, most vacation rental sites suggest contacting the guests first. Sometimes, it’s possible to negotiate a solution directly with them. In many cases, the security deposit is enough to cover minor damages.
So what about the Kings’ high-flying renters? The man who rented the Calgary home through Airbnb has been identified by local police, and an arrest may be made in the next few days. Possible charges include mischief and property damage over $5,000, a charge which can lead to fines and possible jail time.