A short-term rental horror story involving a UC Berkeley professor and her home of several decades in Kensington an affluent, census-designated place in the Berkeley Hills, just north of Berkeley in Contra Costa County, with commanding views of the Bay has reached the pages of ultra-liberal magazine Mother Jones, and because it involves academics, it's presented as a cautionary tale about how hard it is to evict people in California, and how the "sharing economy" can be an insane concept even among ostensibly trustworthy people with advanced degrees.
KRON 4 subsequently picked up the story, without giving any credit to Mother Jones.
In brief, the tale goes like this: Berkeley English professor Elizabeth Abel, 71, decides to use a site called SabbaticalHomes.com to rent out her two-bedroom Kensington home while she spends a semester abroad in Paris in early 2016, researching a new book she's writing on Virginia Woolf. She gets multiple responses but goes with the first one, from a 50-ish Sarah Lawrence professor of political science, and she neglects to check out any references for him because of the implicit trust the site projects about academics opening their homes to fellow academics.
She departs in January 2016, and says that her new tenant was then late on his second month's rent, and the third month's rent never arrives. She hears accounts from neighbors that the man's wife and teenage son are nowhere to be seen, even though he said they'd be moving with him, and they observe him moving Abel's furniture out of the house and into her garage.
With increasing alarm bells, and a note from the Kensington Police Department suggesting that the man might be trying to establish squatters' rights, Abel returns early from her sabbatical in May and stakes out her own home from a neighbor's house across the street. She hires a private investigator and finds out that this Sarah Lawrence professor has a bit of a red-flag rental history that probably would not have been difficult to discover had she tried earlier, and what ensues is a hilarious story of academics going to war, via email, to protect one of their own.
Yes, Judith Butler gets involved.
Abel enlisted the famed literary theorist and her professor partner Wendy Brown, a fellow political scientist whom she believes the errant tenant might admire, to write him several "epic, eviscerating emails," one of which says he'd better vacate their friend's house "to avoid any further destruction to your professional and personal world."
The magazine doesn't manage to get the guy on the record to defend himself, and he seemed to threaten Abel with libel for writing a negative review about him on SabbaticalHomes.
And, all told, Abel's nightmare didn't extend very long and the bad tenant in this case didn't even invoke most of the protections and legal delays he could have. Abel had tried to get the guy out by May 1, and he was out by Memorial Day, and he still owes her back rent of which he recently paid her an $800 installment.
So, Mother Jones concludes, while California's tenant protection laws are usually "a good thing" that protect against predatory landlords, there are such things as serial evictees and nightmare Airbnb guests, and some of them are liberal academics.