'Smells like a party': Sylvan Lake Airbnb host believes she avoided disaster

A Sylvan Lake homeowner who rents out her property on Airbnb believes she narrowly avoided having her house damaged significantly. 

Police are investigating a break-and-enter and mischief after officers arrived at a home on Falcon Ridge Drive in the town about 25 kilometres west of Red Deer on Friday night. Police allege more than 50 young people were in the home, which had sustained substantial damage. Though multiple people were arrested, the investigation is ongoing and no charges had been laid as of Tuesday afternoon, RCMP Cpl. Laurel Scott said.

The property is listed on Airbnb.

When reached on social media, Darren Cameron, the owner of the property said he is still in discussions with Airbnb and is not prepared to speak to media yet. Airbnb confirmed Tuesday that the incident at the property did not take place during a reservation. 

Pearl Rush owns two homes in the lakeside town, which she rents out through Airbnb. 

She believes the same people who targeted the Falcon Ridge Drive property may have tried to rent one of her listings.

"I feel extremely relieved, but also heartbroken for these other people," she said.

Submitted by Darren Cameron

She said a young man contacted her about booking the house on the weekend of Nov. 16 and told her he was coming from Calgary to meet some friends.

Her rental sleeps 16 people, so he asked if they could have a discount on the cleaning fee because there would only be four or five guys. She agreed, but then things took a turn. 

"Later on in the day, he said he was having trouble booking and wanted to know if we could meet up and pay in cash. That was kind of the first red flag," she said.

Rush's husband went to the property to meet the guests and to help them figure out how to pay through the app. He arrived and met three young men. Rush said her husband was worried and warned her something didn't feel right.

Meanwhile, Rush started receiving messages from another account from someone saying he was from the same group and still trying to book the house. 

In the end, Rush just blocked the dates so they couldn't make the reservation.

This past week, the same group contacted her again and tried to book again. She told them sorry, but it "smells like a party" and she doesn't allow parties at the property. 

"Oh? Okay that's alright I guess. I mean you can never be [too] careful these days," the man replied. 

Rush didn't think much more about it until a few days later when she saw social media posts about a party at a different Airbnb listing. 

She went back to her messages and looked at the accounts of the two young men who had claimed to be from Calgary and discovered that they were Sylvan Lake residents.

Rush said she spoke to the other owner Monday night, and offered to help out with painting and other repairs when he's trying to fix the property up.

Submitted by Darren Cameron

She said her teenage daughter took a sign-up sheet to her high school on Tuesday in hopes of signing up other kids for a "work bee."

"Hopefully the town can sort of rally together and help him out in this situation," she said.

Rush said this isn't the first time she's experienced trouble with parties: This past summer, some guests hosted a large party that caused her neighbours to complain to town officials. Since then, she has been more careful. 

She had another close call in September.

"I said 'how many people?' and they were honest and said 100, and I said 'no way.' And then I looked at their profile and saw they were also booking from Sylvan Lake," she said.

Rush said despite the risk, she will continue to rent out her house for short-term rentals.

"Just the way the economy is in Alberta, I don't really see another option. Our houses haven't really increased in value, and our property taxes are going up. You're just trying to save the asset that you have," she said.