Video: AirBnB getting co-opted by the escort business in New York?
posted at 10:01 am on April 15, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
This sounds like one of those great ideas in theory that run into all-too-human predilections when put into practice. AirBnB is a kind of ad hoc timeshare network, where people can monetize their time away from home by renting out their house or apartment to other travelers in their absence. The short-term nature of these transactions — and the lack of eyeballs on how the facilities get used — ends up fitting the needs of a completely different leisure industry altogether, the New York Post reports:
Hookers are using the controversial Airbnb home-sharing Web site to turn prime Manhattan apartments into temporary brothels, The Post has learned.
One escort service is even saving a bundle by renting Airbnb apartments instead of hotel rooms for clients’ quickies, says a 21-year-old call girl who works for the illicit business.
“It’s more discreet and much cheaper than The Waldorf,” said the sex worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
How much cheaper? The escort services can save as much as $400 a night per worker. In part, they save that money by avoiding NYC’s 15% hotel tax — which has the state Attorney General looking into the practice now, too.
The AirBnB service isn’t an entirely blind transaction. The owner of the home gets to approve the rental, but on short notice, that’s rather limited, as one publicist who went on record with the Post discovered. Her renter told Jessica Penzari that she was in the military and on leave before deployment, but Penzari learned that the invasion hit her own doors rather than foreign shores:
But when a hooker got slashed by a client in the West 43rd Street apartment over the price of his “massage,” Penzari got a call from cops.
When she returned, Penzari was shocked to find telltale remnants including baby wipes and “at least 10 condoms.”
It’s not the first time that AirBnB has had issues with prostitution. In 2012, despite claims that AirBnB had improved its security, two Swedish women returned from vacation to find that two guests had turned their apartment into a brothel. In 2011, another incident involved guests brewing meth at their host’s house, and The Wire warned that AirBnB’s response seemed aimed at corporate damage control than actual security improvements:
Last year, in an incident that led Airbnb to beef up its security practices, we heard about horrific tales of meth and property damage. And, back then, Airbnb didn’t approach the situation with such bend-over-backwards kindness. (It took the site a day to apologize.) It has since learned its PR lessons. Last August, CEO Brian Chesky wrote in a blog post, “In the last few days we have had a crash course in crisis management,” and announced revamped policies with a 24-hour hotline, safety tips, and a link to contact the CEO.
But, these changes seem to have gone a lot farther at boosting “crisis management” rather than avoiding crises in the first place. The trust and safety center has “tips” for choosing guests and putting up the right postings, but, none of it fixes the core issue: people you might not want into your apartment might rent your place through Airbnb. If that happens, the most useful part is the $1,000,000 host guarantee, insurance that covers property damage and theft. (That money is presumably paying for the house cleaning and hotel for the Stockholm couple.) But, there is only so much post-trauma clean-up can do to make users feel better. “We feel uneasy about being in our own apartment after this,” one of the women in Stockholm, who chose to remain anonymous, told Yiannopolous. A source “close to the incident” told Butcher, “I’ve always seen Airbnb as a great company and idea and I’ve never thought of something like this happening… Now I’m going to think twice before renting out my place… or put up a sign… No prostitution allowed.”
Yes, I’m sure that would work just as well as “GUN FREE ZONE” signs do.
I can see the reason why some would seek to rent a vacation pad through AirBnB, but I must say that I’m mystified why anyone would open their own home through such a service. Yes, I know that “the entire hospitality industry deals with issues like these,” as AirBnB’s statement noted, but most of the hospitality industry doesn’t live in the rooms they rent — and traditional B&Bs usually have the owners on site during rentals. Readers?