Sunnyvale Airbnb Homeowner Sued by State and City
A large house party at an Airbnb rental in Sunnyvale last August, where two youths were shot, one fatally, would certainly not have happened if the owner had obeyed a city law requiring his presence at the home, a new lawsuit filed by the State of California and the city of Sunnyvale claim.
“It is extremely unlikely that a large advertised house party would have occurred at the subject property if the ‘host’ had actually been there,” the lawsuit alleges.
The state and city allege that Ke Zhou, of Maryland, appears to have purchased the home only to rent it to temporary occupants, and that she violated Sunnyvale’s law against short-term rentals when the host did not is not present on the property.
Zhou also continues to advertise the home in the Raynor Park area as a short-term rental and “has shown utter and repeated disregard for city laws,” according to the lawsuit filed Friday in New York Superior Court. Santa Clara County.
Contacted by phone Monday about the lawsuit allegations, a person who identified himself as Ke Zhou said, “No comment.
At least 150 young people had flocked to the Navarro Drive home after the party was announced on social media. Shots killed Elias Elhania, 18, and injured another person. A Sunnyvale resident, 17 at the time of the shooting, was arrested in December on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.
It was at least the fourth shooting at an Airbnb party home in northern California in less than two years, including a bloodbath in 2019 that killed five people in Orinda on Halloween. Zhou listed the house on Airbnb from July 2018 to August 2021, according to the lawsuit. The San Francisco company said it disabled listing after the shooting, which occurred despite the company imposing a temporary party ban a year earlier following the Orinda tragedy. Airbnb said in June that it was “officially codifying the ban” as company policy.
Zhou failed to obtain the necessary permits and approvals to rent the home short-term, and she violated state and city nuisance laws, according to the suit. City law requires a short-term rental landlord to reside on the property while tenants are present, according to the lawsuit.
“One of the main reasons for a ‘hosted’ requirement and the various check-in and operational requirements is to prevent the short-term rental from becoming a ‘party house’, which is unfortunately exactly what the owner caused or allowed the property in question to become, with catastrophic consequences,” the suit alleges.
It was unclear what evidence California and Sunnyvale had to claim in the lawsuit that Zhou continued to advertise the house as a short-term rental.
Property records indicate that Zhou has owned the home since 2014. The lawsuit alleges that she violated Sunnyvale’s short-term rental law more than 1,000 times by promoting it as a short-term rental and the rented illegally for 461 days. She earned at least $81,000 in “ill-gotten gains” by renting it out, according to the suit.
Zhou’s violations affected the community through nighttime shootings, as well as excessive noise, traffic jams and “accumulation of trash,” according to the lawsuit.
Data from the City of Sunnyvale shows that as of last week, 136 short-term rentals were approved.
The city and state seek a court order prohibiting Zhou from advertising and operating the house as a short-term rental. They also want a judge to force Zhou to hand over any income earned from the alleged illegal rental of the property and to reimburse the city for enforcement costs related to the property.
The lawsuit says there is a “real possibility” that if Zhou is not prevented by a court order from allowing “harmful activities to continue” on his property, “harmful activities will recur and continue to threaten the health, safety and welfare of neighbors and the public.