PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When Seneca Landry booked a weekend stay through Airbnb for her sister’s bachelorette party earlier this year, the online listing said they would have the entire Rhode Island home to themselves.
But on the final day of their stay in May, after some of the women thought they heard voices coming from the basement of the Providence home, Landry said a man followed her from outside and tried to force his way in.
“He told me, ‘I live in the basement and I need to check the electric meter,'” Landry told WPRI. “I was like, ‘No one lives in the basement — we have the whole house.’ And he started to get irate, accusing me of lying.”
The women said they barricaded themselves in the top part of the home and called the police to report a break-in as he repeatedly tried to open the door. Providence Police Department body-worn camera footage obtained by WPRI shows several officers responding.
The officers opened a window at the back of the home so one of them could crawl through and open a locked door. With guns drawn, the officers moved through the basement area, eventually arriving at a closed door, where they heard voices on the other side.
“Open the door,” one of the officers shouted, as he banged on the door.
“Why do I need to open the door for you?” A woman yelled back. “You don’t have a [expletive] warrant.”
“I don’t need a warrant, someone broke in here,” the officer responded.
“Nobody broke in here!” the woman screamed. “I live here!”
A police report shows the officers later spoke with a property management company, Michie House, listed as working for the homeowner, and they confirmed the basement floor was rented out to a tenant.
But Landry said that information was never disclosed on the Airbnb listing, and the website showed no mention of the basement tenant. The property was listed as being available as an entire home.
“The basement was locked off, and we should trust that we have the house to ourselves and it’s safe,” Landry said.
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Michie House and the homeowner didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. An Airbnb spokesperson said the online booking giant fully refunded Landry after she reported the incident, and the company has since decided to take further action in response to what happened.
“On our platform, we hold our hosts to high standards in terms of providing accurate, quality listings, and when they fall short of those standards, we take appropriate action,” the spokesperson said. “Based on our investigation to date, we have deactivated these listings and are in the process of removing this host from our platform.”
Despite the basement apartment, the property is listed as a single-family home, according to the city assessor’s office. It’s also zoned in a neighborhood where homes must be owner-occupied to be rented out as short-term rentals.
Providence spokesperson Andrew Grande told WPRI that the city’s inspections department had received leases showing the property was no longer a short-term rental. But Airbnb provided a list of links to other online booking platforms that showed the home was still available for rent.
When WPRI attempted to book the property using different dates, some worked and others did not.
“It doesn’t look like anyone is vetting these properties,” Landry said.
Landry and her bachelorette party’s experience is a symptom of what some lawmakers have argued is a largely unregulated and untracked multibillion-dollar industry led by companies such as Airbnb, VRBO, Booking.com and others.
For several years, state lawmakers, including Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport, have called for the creation of a statewide registry to track short-term rentals, which she argues are businesses and should be treated as such.
“These properties that are engaged with third-party hosting platforms are businesses,” Carson said, adding that law enforcement would have an easier time responding to issues like the one in Providence if they had better information about the properties.
The Rhode Island General Assembly passed a law last year to create a registry, much to the chagrin of third-party platforms, property owners and Gov. Dan McKee, who vetoed the legislation last July.
“I cannot support this bill because it will create additional burden for property owners,” he wrote in his veto message at the time. “Short-term rental concerns, like other property/land use and small business matters, are more effectively addressed at the municipal level.”
In January, the General Assembly voted to override McKee’s veto, with Sen. Dawn Euer, also a Newport Democrat, arguing the short-term rental industry is “thriving,” especially in seaside communities like the one where she lives.
“In places like our districts in Newport, investors have been buying up housing to rent in this way, and the state is not tracking where these businesses are operating,” Euer said at the time. “It’s impossible to ensure safety or compliance with laws when we don’t even know where the rentals are.”
Last month, the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulations issued a set of draft rules to create the registry, which is slated to begin on Oct. 1. According to the rules, each short-term rental would need to register and owners would have to provide details, including contact information, number of rooms for rent and the intended use of the space.
Every owner would also have to pay a two-year, $50 registration fee for “each property advertised for short-term rental.” DBR currently estimates there are about 3,680 short-term rentals listed across the state, meaning the registry would also generate about $184,000 every two years if every owner complied.
For Landry, she said the stay in Providence was a bad experience that caused her so much anxiety that she missed two days of work.
“We did so many great things, but if you mention my sister’s bachelorette, it’s always going to have that dark cloud,” she said.
Maggie Wayland, a Boston resident who also attended the party, described it as “one of the scariest things that had ever happened.” She hopes action can be taken to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.
“We want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to another bachelorette party,” she said.