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Toronto family seeks compensation for trashed home in 'horrific' rental-gone-wrong

TORONTO — Thieves made off with a 50-inch TV, treasured family heirlooms and a carefully curated sneaker collection, but it's their son's plundered piggy bank that really upsets Daniel Habashi and Andrea Van Leeuwen.

The Toronto homeowners say they were shocked to find their century-old Victorian rowhouse trashed and ransacked after renting it out for a weekend in July on the Airbnb-like website Kid & Coe.

They are now suing the New York-based company and estimate damages to the home and the value of stolen property total $100,000.

"The (renters) ransacked our home, they emptied drawers out, cleared out closets, they used our own luggage to sort through all our belongings to determine what to take, what to sell," said Van Leeuwen, who suspects more than 50 people trampled through their house at a raucous party.

Habashi said they believed they were renting to a young couple with a toddler, but later learned the renter had used fraudulent credit card information. They learned something was wrong July 22, the day after the guest checked in.

They were visiting New York when a neighbour emailed a noise complaint that evening. Early the next morning, Habashi noticed several alerts on his mobile phone reporting smoke in the house.

They called a security company to investigate, and it discovered eight adults sleeping in the home. They were evicted, and a relative filed a police report.

Until this experience, Van Leeuwen said they had been big fans of the family-friendly site, which specializes in connecting travellers with homes stocked with kid supplies like sippy cups, safety gates and cribs.

And so she was especially distressed to find her children's toys broken and apparently used as drug paraphernalia, and their books burned by cigarettes.

Ever since, she said her four- and five-year-old sons have been "highly distressed."

"I can still smell the hint of the smoke that was in the home, it's a constant reminder for me of what has happened in the home as well as our son just asking questions — asking if he's safe, asking if his stuff is OK."

A spokeswoman for Kid & Coe said the company is taking the family's concerns seriously but noted that homeowners are responsible for securing their own insurance.

"This is truly, truly horrifying, what's happened to Dan and Andrea," Laura Hall said when reached Thursday in Copenhagen, where she's based. "We're doing everything we can to make it right."

Hall said the four-year-old business has never offered insurance but has been working for two years on adding protection for users.

"Obviously with this situation we know that this is something that people want and expect and if we can offer it we'd like to," said Hall, describing Kid & Coe as a small business with about 1,300 clients in more than 50 countries. That includes 20 properties in Canada.

Company founder Zoie Kingsbery Coe added in an emailed statement, also posted to Facebook, that she was "wholeheartedly sorry" for a process that "has taken far too much time" to resolve.

"I will be the first to admit that looking back at this we have not handled it as best we could — it has been far too drawn out which I know has been incredibly frustrating for the family," said Coe, adding that security measures are under review and that comprehensive insurance is coming.

"We have had a major setback but we will put things right for this family and of course for the safety and trust of our community."

Van Leeuwen and Habashi admitted they didn't have adequate insurance coverage, but insisted the company should cover the costs of restoring their home.

Their lawsuit, filed Tuesday in New York, seeks at least US$200,000 for negligence plus additional damages for breach of fiduciary duty, deceptive trade practices, false advertising and breach of contract.

The funds sought includes payment for the actual rental that July weekend — a five-night booking at $500 a night. Habashi said he's still shaken by what happened.

"Every single nook and cranny and corner of the place (was) just torn apart. For days you're still finding things you didn't think of," he said.

"It was the blatant disrespect of our children's property and our home and.... that sense of brutal violation just breaks your heart."

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press