On August 26, 2022, our firm worked with the City of Sunnyvale’s in-house legal team to file a claim against Ke Zhou for illegally renting a property on Airbnb between July 2018 and August 2021, to the tune of over $80,000 in illegally obtained profits.
The City’s municipal code states that short-term rentals must be hosted, meaning the owner of the property must be on site, but Ms. Zhou lives in New Jersey. The goal of such an ordinance is to protect the residential character of neighborhoods and to prevent short-term rentals from becoming a party house or other nuisance. Unfortunately, due to the property owner’s repeated violation of the law, tragedy ensued.
On August 7, 2021, Sunnyvale’s Department of Public Safety was contacted by neighbors due to loud music coming from the subject property. When police arrived, there were about 150-200 underage partiers all over the property, which was promoted on social media and even had a cover charge.
Aside from all of the underage drinking that was taking place, shortly after arriving, police heard between seven and nine gunshots. Two men between the ages of 19 and 20 years old were left lying on the floor at the side gate of the property; one partygoer lost his life, while the other survived.
The property owner did not answer after several attempts to contact her that night.
For months following the incident, residents in the quaint Sunnyvale neighborhood were left feeling uneasy knowing the family-friendly community where their children are raised was the location of a crime scene and still unsure of the gunman’s whereabouts.
Had the property host been present and followed Sunnyvale’s Municipal Code on short-term rentals, the homicide and attempted homicide would not have occurred.
During the three years that the property was illegally rented, the property owner committed at least 461 separate violations of law by renting the property as a non-hosted short-term rental. The owner also had the property listed on Airbnb for 1,119 days, and each of those days constitutes a separate violation of the City’s municipal code.
It is estimated that the defendant (Ms. Zhou) has exceeded $80,000 in profits from the short-term rental, which was almost immediately used as such just months after purchasing the home in May 2018.
The City is working to bring all short-term rentals into compliance with the City’s ordinance and hopefully, to avoid a repeat of this tragedy or something similar. In May, the City Council adopted updates to the City’s short-term rental ordinance to make it harder for hosts to evade city rules.
These new requirements will make it easier for City staff to investigate violations, remove illegal ads, and issue citations as necessary.
The City of Sunnyvale is suing Defendant Ke Zhou to seek injunctions to prevent future violations on the property, disgorgement of the illegally obtained profits, and other remedies to ensure the subject property no longer poses a threat to the community. Airbnb is not a defendant in the lawsuit.