Homeowners Find Tenants Gone and Airbnb Strangers Living Free, They Say

After five years of searching, Avinash Jha and Ami Shah say they finally found their dream home in Fremont, Calif. Already locked in a rental lease, they couldn’t move in with their two children right away, so they decided to rent it out for one year to a family they met online. 

“They’re a family like us; they’re trying to build a life here. We thought, ‘Oh it’s great. They’ll take care of our home,’” said Shah.

The couple and their new tenants signed a rental agreement in August 2019, which strictly prohibited subleasing.

Little did they know, their tenants would disregard the agreement and turn their dream home into a hotel, Jha and Shah said. 

In June 2020, neighbors alerted them to multiple Airbnb listings advertising individual rooms inside house.

“I read through the reviews that even during the pandemic about 200 guests had stayed there!” said Jha.

During the pandemic 200 guests had stayed [in our home]!

Avinash Jha, homeowner

“I was furious. All they wanted to do was make money off our house,” said his wife.

Which raises the question: Does Airbnb check if the person creating the listing owns or manages the property?

The Investigative Unit went through Airbnb’s property listing process three times using an address of an apartment that is not authorized for subleasing. Not once did Airbnb ask for proof of ownership or authorization through the site or app.

Airbnb declined NBC Bay Area’s repeated requests for an interview and said in a statement, “These issues are rare, but we take them very seriously.” 

The company tells listers by clicking “next” you certify you… have all the necessary rights to list your space.

The Jha’s said that lack of thorough vetting by Airbnb led to a homeowner-tenant-Airbnb nightmare that flipped their family’s life upside down.

After learning their tenants violated the rental agreement by subletting the home, the Jha’s served them a 30-day notice to vacate on September 24, 2020. After weeks of back-and-forth, the couple learned their situation was about to get much more complicated.

The Jha family said when the tenants tried to get the Airbnb guests to leave, the guests refused, saying they were now legally tenants because they’d lived there for more than 30 days. They also cited Alameda County’s moratorium on evictions, said the Jha’s.

The Santa Clara Mail reached out to both the original tenants and three of the Airbnb guests. The tenants didn’t want to speak with us and the Airbnb guests did not agree to an interview.

Their original tenants have since abandoned the situation, according to the Jha’s, leaving them stuck in a housing dispute with Airbnb guests who they don’t know.

Airbnb said they took down the unauthorized listings and suspended one of the Airbnb guests accounts in August.

“Legally, the [Airbnb guests] very well might be right. Legally, there’s nothing the landlords can do about this,” said Alan Horowitz, a landlord attorney who is not representing the Jha’s or associated with the case.

Legally, there’s nothing the landlords can do about this.

Alan Horowitz, attorney

Horowitz said this Fremont case is not isolated and said these kinds of situations are happening all over the Bay Area. And because of Alameda County’s eviction moratorium, Horowitz said they can’t resolve the situation in court.

 “I don’t know how many calls [I get] each week where I have to tell people that I am completely helpless to do anything for you right now.

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