Mother Jones, The Crazy Story of the Professor Who Came to Stay—And Wouldn't Leave:
It's not easy to evict someone in California. Usually that's a good thing.
Elizabeth Abel walked up to the front door of her house for the first time in four months and rang the bell. She'd just flown halfway around the world to drop in, unannounced, on the man who'd taken over her home.
When he came to the door, Abel says, the man didn't seem surprised to see her—or the police officer standing beside her. "Oh, hi," he said.
Abel peered behind him into her living room, which was practically empty. Most of her furniture was gone: a dining table and four chairs, two easy chairs, an antique piece. Her books and rugs were nowhere to be seen. Even the artwork had been taken off the walls.
As Abel walked around the place she'd called home for three decades, she had the distinct feeling that her life had been erased. In the family room, a small sofa, a table, and a television had been removed. Out on the back deck, the wooden table and benches were missing. The bedrooms were emptied out, her mattresses crammed into the office. Closets were sealed with blue painter's tape. She turned to the man, who had been renting her place for the past several months—without paying. "What is going on here?" she demanded. "What are you doing?
In October 2015, as she was planning a semester-long research trip to Paris, Abel logged on to SabbaticalHomes.com to find someone to rent her house. The site bills itself as a sort of Airbnb for academics; its motto is "A place for minds on the move." Abel, an English professor at the University of California-Berkeley, quickly received a bunch of responses, the first of which came from a political scientist at Sarah Lawrence College named David Peritz. ...
Abel, now 71, didn't feel much of a connection with Peritz, two decades her junior. Still, she thought to herself, "Oh, come on. He's a professor." She found him polite and gracious, and she didn't bother asking for references, let alone do a background check. She didn't notice until much later that his personal checks lacked a home address. Why would she? That was precisely the point of Sabbatical Homes; unlike Craigslist or Airbnb, it was opening your home not to random people, but to colleagues. (As the site's founder put it in a press release, "There is an implicit degree of trust amongst academics.") When Abel discussed her would-be renter with her husband, a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology who spends most of the year at the University of Texas-Austin, she didn't mention any misgivings.
So in January 2016, Abel headed to the Latin Quarter to work on a new book on Virginia Woolf, and Peritz moved into her home.
December 30, 2016 | Permalink
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