File this under things that make you go ‘Hmmmm.’ After reading this, you may rethink your idea of hosting an Airbnb in your home or anything like that. First reported on the TaxProf Blog, this post by Paul Caron, is one that will leave you shaking your head for multiple reasons.
In October 2015, as she was planning a semester-long research trip to Paris, Abel logged on to SabbaticalHomes.com to find someone to rent her house. The site bills itself as a sort of Airbnb for academics; its motto is “A place for minds on the move.” Abel, an English professor at the University of California-Berkeley, quickly received a bunch of responses, the first of which came from a political scientist at Sarah Lawrence College we’ll call ‘Professor X’
Seems harmless, right?
“She found him polite and gracious, and she didn’t bother asking for references, let alone do a background check. She didn’t notice until much later that his personal checks lacked a home address. Why would she? That was precisely the point of Sabbatical Homes; unlike Craigslist or Airbnb, it was opening your home not to random people, but to colleagues. (As the site’s founder put it in a press release, “There is an implicit degree of trust amongst academics.”)
Now, this is where we have to shake our heads. No reference check? But its easy to play ‘armchair quarterback’ and at 71 years of age, Mrs. Abel’s inclination to trust is likely a reflection of her generation. So, she moves ahead with the plan and Professor X moves into her home in January 2016…
In early February, Abel noticed that Professor X hadn’t paid the rent by the first of the month, as they’d agreed upon. … By the time April 1 came and went without a rent check, Abel had had enough. She wrote him to tell him she was taking him to small-claims court. Around the same time, Abel’s neighbors began writing her increasingly concerned emails. One of them had even seen Professor X taking her furniture down the driveway to the office in the garage late at night.
Abel got in touch with the Kensington Police Department, which sent an officer by the house to talk with Professor X. The officer emailed Abel to tell her that he thought Professor X was “trying to establish squatters rights or lock you out,” and that she should have a cop accompany her when she eventually came back home. Someone from the police department would tell her she should start the eviction process as soon as possible. It might take weeks, even months, to get Professor X out of her house. …
At this point, most of us can put ourselves in Abel’s shoes and we’re freaking out for sure! How can this happen? How can a man who moves in, doesn’t pay for 3 months and starts removing your furniture have any reasonable rights whatsoever? You can thank California law and their eviction process for that…
“When a tenant stops paying rent, the eviction process goes like this: First, he or she must be served a three-day notice of what he owes. Once that notice has expired without payment, the landlord has to file what’s known as an unlawful detainer complaint, which must then be served to the renter along with a court summons. The renter has five days to respond, and either party can request a court date within the next 20 days. Along the way, the case can get delayed for any number of reasons, stretching out the process to a couple of months. In the meantime, the tenant stays put, rent-free.
This process was set up in part to protect tenants from predatory landlords. But in some instances it has provided cover for people looking to score a few months of free housing. In 2008, SF Weekly reported that there were between 20 and 100 serial evictees operating in San Francisco—bouncing from home to home without ever paying a dime.”
It did, in fact, take Mrs. Abel nearly 6 months to evict Professor X from her home and not without a lot of effort and pushback from him, who Abel then found out was a serial squatter with a long history tracing back to the East Coast where he failed to pay rent. Read the full story to learn the lengths you may have to go if you fail to properly screen renters and the risks you take on in participating in these new types of home shares, rentals or swaps.