The group, which rented a home on VRBO, woke up to their van's tires slashed and a threatening message painted on the garage. They quickly realized they were caught in the middle of a contentious neighborhood debate over short-term rentals.
"I can't even believe that this is real, honestly," Alana Harrison told ABC7 News.
Harrison, who is from Kansas, said her friend booked their group of 11 people a short-term rental in the Green Valley neighborhood of Fairfield. On their third day there, they woke up and found a threatening message spray-painted on the garage.
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"This is your final warning. The tribe has spoken. Leave this place or else," a message on one part of the garage said.
Scribbled on the other side of the garage was: "You have no idea who live on this mountain. Do not underestimate our people!"
All four of the tires on their rental van had also been slashed.
NIGHTMARE VRBO RENTAL: “Leave this place or else.”— Liz Kreutz (@ABCLiz) October 18, 2021
A group of friends visiting wine country had a pretty awful experience with their @vrbo rental in Fairfield, CA.
They woke up to all four of their rental van tires slashed — & this threatening messaging painted on the garage. pic.twitter.com/wbyubMQTog
"I was terrified. Honestly, I thought it was a joke," Harrison recalled. "I don't understand why they vandalized our car if they wanted us to leave."
It was only after this that the group learned the couple who own the home did not have a permit for a short-term rental. According to Solano County Supervisor James Spering, it had recently been denied after a contentious debate and pushback from the neighborhood.
"My understanding is that the permit was denied and delayed, and so I was surprised to see they have people staying in it," Spering told ABC7 News.
He explained that short-term rentals are very contentious, especially in Green Valley and some of the residential neighborhoods throughout the county.
"It's concerns about the impact on your neighborhoods, property values, fire risk. Those are the main concerns we're hearing," Spering said.
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When ABC7 News visited the home on Monday, there were new renters currently staying at the property.
ABC7 News tried contacting the homeowners about the incident, their permit and why they are continuing to rent, but they did not respond.
Cliff Neal, a neighbor who lives on the same cul-de-sac as the short-term rental, shared surveillance video from the night of the vandalism which showed a suspect entering the property and, not long after, running away. He said he did not recognize the suspect.
"No and I hope someone does," Neal said. "It's appalling. There's no one that can justify spray painting and pumping tires."
Still, Neal is also one of the many neighbors fed up with this short-term rental. He said he signed a petition along with more than 100 households asking the county to shut them down.
"They pack this house with seven bedrooms and 10 beds, trying to make it a party house," he said. "And they were explicitly denied a permit."
One of the neighbors got surveillance video showing a suspect who may have been responsible for the vandalism.— Liz Kreutz (@ABCLiz) October 18, 2021
This happened in the Green Valley area of Fairfield. pic.twitter.com/fBycxgr49S
As for Harrison and her friends, they're disturbed by all aspects of this experience: the response from the neighborhood, the homeowners and VRBO.
"The most wrong to me would be the homeowners because they're like let's keep renting no matter what," she said. "But VRBO should have policies in place to investigate."
VRBO did not respond to ABC7 News by our deadline. Harrison said after much urging, the website did appear to take down the rental.
After the incident, the group did not feel comfortable staying in the home and told VRBO they planned to leave. But VRBO did not help them find a new rental and they could not find any affordable alternatives. They ultimately had no option but to stay.
At that point, Harrison said they could no longer book through VRBO so they had to book directly through the homeowner, who said they only could stay if they paid.
Harrison posted about this incident on the "Girl Loves Travel" Facebook group. After her post got attention online, she said VRBO reimbursed the group for the two nights they ultimately had paid for through the rental website. They are still hoping to get some reimbursement from the homeowner. They also had to pay out of pocket for the cost of the slashed tires.
The group is still dealing with trying to get reimbursed by the homeowners and are shocked to hear they currently have it rented out.
For now, Harrison is sharing their story as a warning.
"I felt compelled to share so this doesn't happen again to people who use VRBO," she said. "I just learned, be very diligent to look at the property you're staying at. Don't just go off the reviews alone."
The group did file a police report and hope someone will be caught and charged.