By John Ramos

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – Huge gatherings at short term rental homes have caused cities to institute bans and even proved deadly last year. But now, new technology is telling those who come to play that the party’s over.

Jim and Martha Gregg’s San Francisco house has become as much a business as a home. Using Airbnb, they rented their three extra bedrooms to guests 220 days last year, but that has always raised a question…

“You just feel like, can we greet them Thursday night and head up to Napa on Friday and sleep comfortably knowing that our house is…is…? Yeah, you’re kind of harnessed to the house,” they said.

Unauthorized house parties can cause huge damage. On Halloween last year, five people were shot and killed at a party in a vacation rental house in Orinda. Now homeowners can use ‘Party Squasher,’ a small sensor connected to the home’s internet router that counts the number of cell phone signals in a house.

“And by recognizing the presence of a cell phone, we can tell you whether there are 10 people in your room, or 200 people in your room,” said Bill Evans, CEO of BlueZoo, which makes the Party Squasher.

Here’s how it works: The rental owner inputs a maximum number of guests — in Jim’s case, ten. As more cell phones turn on, the number displayed on the Party Squasher app begins to grow. When it exceeds ten, a text is sent warning the homeowner.

“Then I would call my neighbor,” said Jim, “and ask him to come here and knock on the door,”

The company’s CEO says it was actually developed to measure foot-traffic volume in or near stores and businesses—an important function during the pandemic. Now, its role as a party squasher has opened up a whole new world of customers, including the Greggs.

“And we’ll say, you know, we’re going to take off for the weekend,” said Martha. “and that’s when we have the Party Squasher, so we can kind of monitor if things get crazy.”

The company says there are no privacy issues because it only detects the presence of signals without actually identifying or recording them. Blue Zoo CEO Evans says in one case the product worked too well. A man saw 20 cell phones in his home and rushed back — just in time to spoil his own surprise birthday party.

Comments (3)
  1. careyca says:

    Party Squasher seems like a godsend to property owners, but more importantly to NEIGHBORS of Airbnbs and Vrbos. Big parties at Airbnbs are totally out of hand, and in a pandemic are just downright dangerous. Just the presence of these sensors will discourage guests who just want to party and be irresponsible. Well done.