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Alberta family home emptied, trashed during Airbnb booking

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An Airbnb owner west of Edmonton estimates she's out more than $200,000 after her property was ransacked during a booking.

The morning of Jan. 21, Jocelyn St. Onge got a strange text from a neighbour. He told her the hood of her truck at her property outside the lake town Wabamun was raised.

That Sunday, two guests who had been renting her acreage for one week were scheduled to check out.

On her security system, St. Onge had seen a group arrive the previous weekend but knew little else about their comings and goings, as extremely low temperatures affect the cameras.

Because it had been so cold, she first assumed they were using the 2004 Ford F-350 she had left there to boost their own vehicle. But then the neighbour called.

"You better get out here. Your truck is gone," she remembers him saying.

Until they deemed it safe, RCMP didn't allow St. Onge back into the house she had lived and raised her kids in for 22 years and which she had renovated with her late husband.

"This is what we found."

'I'm glad I didn't come here to check on things'

St. Onge gave CTV News Edmonton a tour of her ruined home on Monday, pointing things out as she walked through the rooms that had been stripped of most valuables.

In addition to her truck and an off-road vehicle: furniture, including a mattress and bed frame, gone; important documents like birth and death certificates and the deed to her house, gone; the artwork, gone; the food, gone; her husband's tools, gone; a TV that hung in the playroom, gone. The TV and the drywall it hung on had been cut down, leaving the studs underneath exposed.

"I'm not even going to tell you what was on that couch," she said in the living room. "But my daughters told me to stop touching it and leave it alone. It's going to the dump."

What St. Onge believes are burn marks from crack pipes were visible throughout the house.

Bags of used and unused needles were found in one bedroom and other drug paraphernalia in the playroom.

"These things. I didn't know what they were, but the police assured me they're for heroin use. Something about sterilizing the needles or something," St. Onge said. "This is the playroom. For children! Not anymore."

In the garage, the ransackers had painted some windows. St. Onge suspects they did so for privacy, as they had also hung up sheets as curtains around the house.

Near the front entrance, a shotgun pellet was found. One large hole and dozens of tiny holes had been punched into the ceiling directly above.

Even more alarming to St. Onge: She found knives embedded in the frame of the back door, bars in the windows, and the core of dismantled dumbbells underneath some of the mattresses.

"I'm assuming they were, at this point, expecting me to show up here out of suspicion. I'm glad I didn't come here to check on things because I would have been met with violence, from what I can tell."

As of Tuesday, she was still in the process of compiling a list of stolen property but it sat at $170,000.

Additionally, she was quoted $45,000 for professional cleaning and $25,000 in repairs.

Most, if not all, of the expenses, she acknowledged, should be covered by insurance and Airbnb – but likely not for months.

As she lives at the house when it's not rented, St. Onge lost both her home and main source of income.

"I have to figure out how to fix all this and wait for months and months for reimbursement."

2 arrests, no charges yet

Mounties found St. Onge's truck about one week later in Sangudo, 50 kilometres north of Wabamun.

"A very poor, shoddy spray paint job" had made it bright red, according to Corp. Troy Savinkoff. The truck's vehicle identification number had also been removed.

Two people were arrested in connection with the stolen truck but charges hadn't been laid as of Tuesday.

"There is a significant amount of evidence our officers are looking through. And obviously, we're hoping to recover more of that property, as well as find those responsible," Savinkoff told CTV News Edmonton.

Among the evidence St. Onge says officers took were piles of items that had been left beside the door, which she believes the thieves packed with the intention of stealing but left behind in a hurry.

"Police said CorningWare fingerprints beautifully," she commented.

Airbnb, overall, has been slow to deal with, taking two weeks to begin a conversation about possible reimbursement, St. Onge said. She says the company offered her three nights in a hotel but wouldn't compensate her for the bookings she had to cancel in February.

For the time being, St. Onge is staying with her kids, all four of whom live in the Edmonton area, like she did when the property was rented.

While police, Airbnb, and insurance carry out their respective processes, she is sharing her story as a cautionary tale.

St. Onge says she's talked to other Airbnb hosts who had problematic experiences with the same person who booked her house.

"I wanted to make sure if someone thought about hosting or maybe someone is hosting, they need to understand nobody is vetting these guests," St. Onge said.

In a statement, an Airbnb spokesperson said "we require everyone who uses Airbnb to represent themselves authentically, and enforce strict policies governing who can have an account. On the back end, we use sophisticated technologies to help prevent bad actors from utilizing Airbnb."

In St. Onge's case, the spokesperson said, "The reported behaviour is unacceptable, and the booking guest was removed from the platform as soon as we were made aware of it."

They added the company is supporting St. Onge and is "ready to assist Alberta RCMP in their investigation."

St. Onge said she never expected something like this would happen or she wouldn't have listed her home on Airbnb.

And she won't do it again.

She began renting the acreage out about two years ago, after her husband died.

"It was so beautiful; I wanted to share it. I knew this was a good way to earn income for myself," St. Onge said.

"I have to sell it. I can't be here. I can't let other people come here anymore. It's just too – it's too violating… My kids all want me to sell it now. No emotional attachment after this. And they grew up here."

Savinkoff said "horror stories" like this occasionally happen, but that in 20 years of frontline service, he hasn't seen many.

He does, however, advise property owners protect against crime of opportunity by limiting the amount of personal property that is accessible to renters.

Airbnb says 0.02 per cent of reservations around the world in 2022 resulted in property damage reimbursement of more than $1,000.

Its own coverage program, called AirCover, provides up to US$3 million to hosts.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Evan Kenny and Darcy Seaton 

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