For the better part of the last six months, residents of Wilford Road in Branford have been living something of a nightmare as one resident, a rental tenant, has, without permission, added bedrooms to a home and made it an AirBNB destination.
The tale is a cautionary one for homeowners and what it takes to remove nightmare tenants.
10 Wilford Road is a single family home on a street in Indian Neck that leads to the ocean. Homes are close to each other, and for the most part, everyone in the area knows one another.
The owners, Oliver and Sara White, did live in the home, but work forced them to move to California. After some excellent tenants, they once again had a vacancy to fill.
Responding to an ad on Zillow was Gregory Stanhewicz. As explained by the Whites, Stanhewicz explained that he was a moving out of his wife's home after a divorce, and it would be himself and his children. The Whites performed a credit check and looked up his LinkedIn account, and checked references. As they live in California, they did not meet in person, but based on the research, they rented the home to Stanhewicz for $3,548 per month.
The timeline of events listed are based on interviews with the Whites, neighbors, town officials and police. Stanhewicz was asked to participate in person, he refused to answer questions, claimed he was being harassed, and later called the police. He would later call police and accuse the Whites of harrassment as well.
About 6 weeks after moving in, neighbors began noticing a second tenant, and his pickup truck parked in the driveway.
According to the Whites, Stanhewicz was often late with rent, but paid through April. In April, he contacted the Whites with an odd request: to build new bedrooms in the home.
The Whites refused to allow construction in their home.
In May, Stanhewicz did not pay the rent on time, but contacted the Whites asking for leniency, as he was going through a divorce and in a legal battle over his children.
The Whites started doing more research, including contacting neighbors to see if anything odd was taking place.
What they were told is that construction was clearly taking place, that a contractor or carpenter had been taking in framing materials and cutting in the back yard. Mr. White sent a message to Stanhewicz, stating that any and all work should cease.
They then contacted the town building department, who went to the home but the door was slammed on them. Instead, the Whites called the police and an officer and a real estate agent who was a friend of the family entered the home, taking pictures of clear construction taking place. It included a large great room that had been divided into multiple bedrooms.
Soon after, neighbors began witnessing new people spending the night each evening. After research, the home was found listed on AirBNB.
The Whites contacted AirBNB multiple times to get the listing removed, but received no help.
Almost as a way to taunt the Whites, Stanhewicz paid $35 in rent, or 1%, in May.
The Branford Building Department, now aware of construction taking place without approvals or permits, needed to sent a Stop Work Order. But that order needed to be sent to the owners, not the tenant, and the Whites received the order the same day their attorney served a Notice to Quit on Stanhewicz and the second tenant, who was identified as Frank Keller.
Since then, there has remained a steady stream of AirBNB renters each night. This week, police were called after a group of about 40 people rented the home.
In their research, the Whites saw that Stanhewicz had recently been evicted from a home in Milford, and they found similar incidents are reported in other states. The evictions often contain others who are unknown, listed only as Jane or John Doe.
After a battle in Housing Court, the Whites won, and were granted a judgement in early June. Since then the home has continued to be rented out to AirBNB customers.
However, Stanhewicz is set to be served by a Marshall and removed from the premises in the next few days.
The Whites have not yet seen the full extent of the damage in their home, and face issues with the building department when they do. They will also be out at least 10,000 in rent not paid, even as Stanhewicz rented out the home nightly to countless AirBNB tenants. AirBNB, despite being contacted by the Whites and a local police officer, refused to remove the listing or offer nay help in the matter.
Ultimately, it serves as cautionary tale that landlords often know well: it can take months to remove a tenant even with cause, and at a significant loss. Before renting to anyone, it should be common practice to look up housing court issues, and ensure the lease prevent any sublease or rental activity.
But even with due diligence and legal protection, Housing Court takes time, and there will be lost rent.
Renters like this know the system well. They know how to live rent free for as long as possible. Landlords owe it to themselves to do extensive research before entering into a lease.
The Whites tried to warn others, posting on social media not to rent to home and as a warning to other landlords. But those renting AirBNB units are often not from the area, and take for granted that the poster has the right to actually rent the unit.
In fact, it is believed that the home has tenants lined up through AirBNB even after Stanhewicz is removed from the premises. They will arrive, but have no place to stay.