A woman accused of staging a home invasion to force out occupants of her Mountain View apartment had posted extensively on social media about her frustrations and her plans to oust the family she said refused to pay or leave.
“Anyone willing to come down and move in to the house my unwelcome, unpaid guests are in? Almost a month now and no sign of them leaving,” Reenu Saini wrote in a Facebook post Sunday. “Planning to storm the house, flush them out.”
A thread on Facebook shows that Saini, who identifies herself on the site as “Reenu Sa,” had turned to other hosts for advice in the days before her arrest, saying that she had “squatters” inside a property who had moved in as Airbnb guests, then extended their stay. Their payments didn’t go through, however, and the family refused to leave, Saini said.
Some commenters advised her to get a lawyer, while others advised her to hire security guards or bouncers to throw out the family. One person suggested she show up with a shotgun.
Police say that what Saini did Monday night broke the law. They say she showed up at the apartment building on the corner of Rock Street and Rengstorff Avenue with four friends to break into the occupied unit. One of her friends, Steven Carling, 53, used a knife to try to break into the door and nearly struck one of the occupants, who was holding the door closed, officials said.
On Thursday, Saini, 50, entered the Santa Clara County Superior Court room in Palo Alto in a gray-and-black-striped jail smock and orange sandals, her black hair shielding her face from the courtroom crowd. She sat with her cuffed hands in her lap and remained largely silent as prosecutors asked the judge to issue a protective order to keep Saini away from the family. Saini is charged with two felonies, a first-degree burglary count and a count of interfering with an electric powerline.
Saini appeared alongside Carling, 53, who is charged with two felonies: first degree burglary and first-degree burglary of an occupied residence. Also in a black-and-white-striped jail smock, Carling sat with his eyes cast downward, his left eye prominently bruised and purple from an unknown injury.
Judge Charles Wilson ordered Saini and Carling not to contact the family members in the Mountain View apartment in any manner and to stay at least 300 yards away if they post bail. Saini is held on $75,500 bail. Carling, who Wilson said has an “extensive criminal history,” is held on $110,000. Three others — Lori Walston, 49, Brian Ross, 49, and Debra McNeil, 52 — also were arrested and may face charges.
Wilson said the court learned Saini had plans to travel out of the country and ordered Saini to turn in her passport and advised her that she will be supervised by pretrial services personnel if she posts bail.
Saini declined to comment through her attorney.
Police have said that the occupants of the apartment are considered tenants — and Saini is considered a landlord, which is what they’re calling her. They say Saini should have pursued legal action to remove the family.
A New York property manager who has known Saini for years through Facebook groups told The Chronicle she spoke to Saini by phone a few hours before her arrest. She said they were brainstorming Saini’s possible options to remove the tenants.
The woman, who asked not to be named because of the nature of the case, said Saini was reluctant to go through a legal eviction process that could cost tens of thousands of dollars — something she sympathized with.
But, she said, “I very specifically told her no violence.”
The woman, who directed The Chronicle to the Facebook groups where Saini discussed her plans, pointed out that only a handful of commenters advised Saini against aggressive action to remove the tenants while the vast majority of the people encouraged her to take matters into her own hands.
Saini’s Facebook posts are now being looked at by police as part of their investigation of the incident.
In one comment, Saini bemoaned that she did not have a Nest thermostat in the Mountain View apartment — which allows users to remotely alter the temperatures inside.
A user suggested she enter the unit, remove the tenants’ personal items and change all the locks.
“Don’t know if I have it in me to go down on my own,” she responded.
She also expressed hesitation about going alone, replying to another user’s suggestion that she disturb the tenants by intentionally triggering fire alarms at inconvenient times.
“I’m not physically there, and I wouldn’t go myself. There’s 5 of them,” she wrote.
In response to a commenter who had warned Saini that she would be arrested if she acted on some of the more extreme suggestions she was receiving, she wrote, “Exactly, and I don’t need to end up in jail.”
Police said they arrested Saini and her four friends outside the apartment building at around 8:15 p.m. Monday as officers arrived to investigate a call of a burglary in progress. Police said they found the suspects in the front yard. The family, meanwhile, had fled the apartment through a back door and were found on Rengstorff, police said.
On Tuesday, a man at the apartment who identified himself as Marc, 41, one of the victims, told The Chronicle that he, his wife and their three children — ages 14, 17 and 18 — moved to California from North Carolina more than a month ago after his wife obtained a job in the Bay Area. The family moved into an Airbnb unit run by Saini and then, Marc said, after his wife’s job fell through, Saini agreed to set them up in the Rock Street apartment with the understanding they would pay as soon as they got back on their feet financially.
Saini leases the apartment, which is owned by a couple, according to the Santa Clara County Assessor. Saini’s profile on the freelance site Upwork, where she charges $150 per hour as an “Expert Airbnb & Short Term Rentals Consultant,” says she manages 14 rent arbitraged properties — which means the properties are leased long-term and listed short-term on sites like Airbnb at a higher rate.
In California, lessees are permitted to host short-term guests through sites like Airbnb, and there is a legal process for master tenants to evict subtenants, just as there is a process for owners to evict lessees. Critics say this trend of entrepreneurs establishing short-term rental “empires” with dozens of master leases that they rent out to short-term guests contributes to housing shortages and forces long-time residents out of their neighborhoods.
Airbnb said Thursday that Saini has been removed from its community. Saini still has 11 units listed on her rental website, White Linen Homes.
On Monday, Marc said, Saini called the couple to warn them that she was going to do a “lockout” to kick them off the property. That evening, as the husband, wife and two younger children were watching television in the apartment, the electricity went out, he said. Soon, people were trying to break down the door.
Marc said he felt like he was in a horror movie as his kids were screaming and crying in darkness while a person who had broken into their home chased him though the apartment.
Saini wrote Sunday on Facebook that authorities had come out and spoken with the tenants.
“The police just made things 100x worse. They told them they had tenants rights,” she said. “So now they’re emboldened and def not leaving.”
A Pasadena short-term rental host who manages a single property responded Wednesday to one of the posts Saini had made before her arrest, commenting that she hopes everyone in the group takes note of Saini’s case.
“Unfortunately, as most of us now know, Reenu Sa made an unfortunate decision that was clearly based on her frustration with the situation,” Angela Lowell wrote. “Now she’s in jail. We should all learn from her mistake.”
Lowell told The Chronicle that Saini’s “Wild West” approach to the problem was wrong, but she understands why she wanted to avoid the costly legal processes for removing tenants.
“I don’t condone what this woman did, but I can see her frustration,” Lowell said. “She knew it was probably going to be months and months dealing with these people … and she thought maybe she could just scare them out, but that’s kind of dumb. If I were her — well, first I probably would have gone on the group and vented, but after that I would have called a lawyer, and sucked it up.”
Saini has been in trouble with the law before. She has an active $20,000 bench warrant for her arrest in San Mateo County, said Stephen Wagstaffe, San Mateo district attorney. Saini failed to appear in court for a jury trial that was scheduled for June 3 in a misdemeanor vandalism case in which she was charged on suspicion of keying a person’s car in 2015 after the two met at a public storage unit in San Mateo. Saini had expected to purchase an item, but it did not meet her expectations, and she became frustrated when the seller refused her demand for $20 to compensate her for gas and time, Wagstaffe said Thursday.
This article has been corrected since it appeared in print editions.
Chronicle staff writer Lauren Hernández contributed to this report.
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