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Newlyweds evacuated from a California wildfire, then were kicked out of their Airbnb

Posted: 2:37 AM, Nov 24, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-24 20:27:07Z

SAN DIEGO — A couple who evacuated from the Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles says their Airbnb hosts kicked them out of their unit and cleaned out all their belongings, forcing them to live with relatives in San Diego.

Ben and Jessica Wells said they rented out the Airbnb unit in July, paying in advance through May.

The newlywed couple had been living there as they searched for a home to buy.

It was a studio apartment located in West Hills, a community on the western edge of the San Fernando Valley, which backed up to where the Woolsey Fire was burning.

“I could see the fire burning on the hill. I saw the smoke,” said Ben, who got an evacuation alert on his phone while at the gym.

He went home to meet his wife, frantically packing up some important belongings.

“We were not trying to check out of the place at all. Obviously things were a mess, clothes were everywhere. We were just trying to basically make sure we had everything we needed just in case everything burnt,” said Jessica.

After they left, the Airbnb hosts contacted them to see if they could go inside the unit and turn off the lights. Ben said he agreed to let them in for that purpose.

But once inside, owners Larry and Jeri Hannah said they were shocked by what they saw.

“I don’t even know how they were living there,” said Larry. “We couldn’t believe the mess we saw.”

In addition to the clothes scattered about, the Hannahs say the grout on the tile floor in the bathroom had been stained black. They said the walls needed painting and some of the flooring needed to be replaced.

“When It became obvious that we weren’t going to let them come back then we just decided we were going to clean it up because we didn’t want to leave it like that,” said Larry.

In order to do that, they removed all of the Wells’ belongings and told them the rest of their reservation had been canceled.

The Wells said they agreed to pay through the end of November if they could keep their stuff there. But when Ben arrived on November 17, he said he was surprised to see their belongings strewn across the property.

Expensive recording equipment had been left outside, he said. Other belongings had been thrown in trash bags. Some appeared to be missing.

“At that point I was in shock, just completely shaken,” said Ben.

He grabbed what he could find, not knowing that more of their belongings had been stored in a shed on the property.

“Their stuff is all still here,” said Larry.

In a statement, a spokesperson with Airbnb wrote, “We are urgently investigating this incident to better understand what happened. There have been more than 400 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date and negative incidents are extremely rare.”