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A Washington landlord who rented out his home to pay for pilot school says he's now living in his van because he can't evict his tenant, who he claims owes nearly $50,000 in unpaid rent from the last nine months and illegally listed his house for rent on Airbnb.
"I need my house. And all the media and other attention is great, but it doesn't really do me any good," Jason Roth told Insider. "Like, I need to get my house back. I need to get on with my life. I need to stop living in my van."
Roth, an aircraft mechanic's apprentice who purchased his Seattle home in 2016 and had previously rented out rooms, said he leased out his entire home to make extra money.
In March of this year, Roth's tenant, Kareem Hunter, moved in. Roth moved out to a separate apartment. They agreed upon $4,300 in monthly rent, according to documents filed by Roth in Kings County Superior Court that were reviewed by Insider.
After paying just a portion of one month's rent, Roth says Hunter stopped paying anything at all. Roth said the pair tried to negotiate a payment plan, but Hunter still didn't pay — and instead began listing rooms on the property for rent without paying down his debt.
"So, not only is he not paying me, but he's generating an income through the basement Airbnb unit, and meanwhile, I'm having to pay the utilities for that unit," Roth told local news outlet KIRO 7.
In a court filing reviewed by Insider, Roth says Hunter owes him $47,248, a figure which includes $33,400 in back rent, as well as utilities and late fees.
As a result of utility bills, legal payments, and property taxes piling up, Roth said he could no longer afford the apartment he was renting and moved into his van.
Hunter's claims against Roth
Hunter told Insider that Roth has refused to accept payment of past due rent, saying Roth always intended to go take him to court to collect "eviction insurance" and demanded Hunter pay him $40,000 to allow him to break the lease.
Some insurance policies offer landlords protection if they are sued for wrongful eviction. However, this is not a standard coverage in most rental property insurance policies — and Roth says he doesn't hold such a policy.
According to court documents viewed by Insider, Hunter told Roth in an email in July that he wanted to pay his outstanding rent. Hunter also said at the time that he did not want to go to court to avoid having an eviction on his record.
Per correspondence between the two included in a court filing, Roth's lawyer and Hunter tried to negotiate a payment plan but could not come to an agreement. Insider could not find documentation that Roth demanded Hunter pay $40,000 at any point, though their negotiations did include a discussion of payment of $12,000 of back rent.
Hunter also claimed Roth knew he would sublease rooms on the property.
A copy of Hunter's lease, included in a court filing reviewed by Insider, indicates subleasing the property through Airbnb or other short-term rental sites is allowed as long as the tenant does not claim to be a representative or employee of the property owner.
Local news outlet KIRO 7 reported Hunter's Airbnb listing of Roth's property was eventually removed, and city officials indicated the rental license was invalid because it was "obtained using inaccurate information about ownership of the property."
In statements to Insider, Hunter also claimed Roth threatened his life over the dispute, that Roth lied about being homeless, and Roth was "directly or indirectly involved in the robbery of the property causing over $55,000 in losses."
Roth says nothing could be further from the truth, telling Insider in an email that "the statements that Mr. Hunter has made on social media and elsewhere where he accuses me of "swindling," "extortion," "threatening the life of his tenant" and participation in a so-called "eviction insurance scam" and "rental insurance scam" are baseless and defamatory."
The battle moves to court
The monthslong battle between Roth and Hunter is now in court, and Roth said his friends are currently raising money for his legal fees on GoFundMe.
Roth told Insider that he would be unable to live in his house for months after a judge set a hearing date for March next year — after the current lease has expired.
All Roth can do now, he said, is "struggle and wait — and keep eating the fucking value meats that are in the on-sale section at Kroger."
Rental disputes like these can drag on in court, with a recent notable ruling siding with the tenant. In California, an Airbnb host could not evict a renter who stayed in a home for 570 days after the tenant stopped paying rent and reported the host to the city. A judge initially sided with the tenant, ruling that she could not be evicted after finding that the Airbnb host violated city permitting codes in the rental property.
The landlord later sued his tenant, and she vacated the property earlier this month.
Air BnB is becoming more trouble than it may be worth. Cases around the country are mounting leaving homeowners in expensive, time consuming and stressful situations.
Before you consider becoming an Air BnB host, make sure you have validated all the needed items to protect your interests (property insurance, complete lease agreements, all property permits and verification of code compliance and more). Screen tenants carefully for ability to pay, job history, rental history, and more. Hire attorneys if needed....or, if you aren't sure if you are fully protected, don't rent the property.
The liability is not worth the small income. And, it looks like most of these cases are in the tenant's favor.