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?


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Elliot Spitzer would like the address, please!!

Deano1952 on April 15, 2014 at 10:06 AM

“It’s more discreet and much cheaper than The Waldorf,” said the sex worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Next we will hear that Harry Reid’s the “Ritz Carlton” is giving shelter to quickies…

Electrongod on April 15, 2014 at 10:07 AM

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.

Elliot Spitzer would like the address, please!!

Deano1952 on April 15, 2014 at 10:06 AM

Ironically, Spitzer was NY’s AG not so long ago.

Bitter Clinger on April 15, 2014 at 10:10 AM

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?

Chauncey Gardiner would say “I like to watch.”

justltl on April 15, 2014 at 10:14 AM

I’ve got a friend planning to do AirBnB in Italy this summer, and I mentioned their recent troubles, though the legal/lifestyle aftermath ones seem to be more on the side of the apartment/home owner, and seem to be focused mainly on the New York area. From the renter’s standpoint, the main AirBnB concern seems to be just the oddness of some of the contents of the places rented out, compared to the anonymity of booking a hotel room.

jon1979 on April 15, 2014 at 10:17 AM

Liberals bitten by reality

workingclass artist on April 15, 2014 at 10:18 AM

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.

Who are we kidding, we all know that this is the only part of the story New York City is actually concerned about.

Madcap_Magician on April 15, 2014 at 10:18 AM

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.

How enterprising! Maybe Obama should hire some of these people for Treasury, Labor, and Commerce; they seem to have more sense.

Beyond that, these people are bringing down the price so that every Julio, Juan, and Pedro illegal immigrant can afford a night with a high-priced call girl. Maybe ICE should use this as an illegal-immigration sting?

BuckeyeSam on April 15, 2014 at 10:18 AM

I too am mystified why anyone would want to rent out their home to strangers on a night by night basis. That said, with rents as expensive as they are in NYC, I do see how the thought is appealing to some who for whatever reason need to depart town for a period of time but also need to continue to pay their rent…and this is an outlet for them to do it.

Would I want to be that person’s neighbor and have strangers constantly coming and going with suitcases and who knows what? Absolutely not.

Copperwood on April 15, 2014 at 10:22 AM

I blame Comrade DeBlasio.

forest on April 15, 2014 at 10:28 AM

Elliot Spitzer would like the address, please!!

Deano1952 on April 15, 2014 at 10:06 AM

“Busted and off to the hoosegow! But let’s have some fun for a couple of hours first!”

22044 on April 15, 2014 at 10:30 AM

I used air bnb on my trip to Sonoma last summer. Stayed with a wonderful couple in their early 30s (I was 25).

He would make us coffee in the am soaked w fresh eucalyptus from his backyard soaked in it. Just a great experience. I kept in touch and I’ll be renting his room again this year. Bnb ROCKS.

blatantblue on April 15, 2014 at 10:31 AM

And, like guns, booze, fast cars, and fatty foods, smart, responsible people can have nice experiences with this.

blatantblue on April 15, 2014 at 10:33 AM

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?

Um, yeah, no. Won’t rent out my house. My dogs don’t take kindly to strangers.

rbj on April 15, 2014 at 10:41 AM

Can you imagine an episode of The Odd Couple in which Oscars allows someone to rent his room while he’s on the road covering a team, leaving Felix to deal with it.

That would be comedy gold.

BuckeyeSam on April 15, 2014 at 10:42 AM

blatantblue on April 15, 2014 at 10:31 AM

Thanks for the first-person perspective on being a renter! But would you rent out your own place on AirBnB while you were away? I’m curious.

Ed Morrissey on April 15, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Hmm, sounds like an update to an old movie is needed we’ll call it…

“New John City”. Is Wesley Snipes out of jail yet?

Oldnuke on April 15, 2014 at 10:44 AM

Obviously there are some people out there who don’t live like you do.

Shockah.

KMC1 on April 15, 2014 at 10:45 AM

I’ve used Air B&B for a rental in the OBX. It was a great experience, and as advertised.

and traditional B&Bs usually have the owners on site during rentals. Readers?

Most, not all, rent out second homes. If the renter rents out their home, most often they are renting a room or wing of the house and are present. But every option is available through the site-room, partial part of the house, or entire place.

As with everything, people can take a good thing and use it for bad. This news will make me more selective in where I stay with Air B&B, but I’ll keep using the site.

Also, I’ve noticed many renters require a 2 or 3 night stay, which would weed out the “one-nighters.”

conservative pilgrim on April 15, 2014 at 10:48 AM

But would you rent out your own place on AirBnB while you were away? I’m curious.

Ed Morrissey on April 15, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Personally, I’d never rent out my primary home while away. If I had a second home, then probably.

conservative pilgrim on April 15, 2014 at 10:50 AM

Does Zipcar rent really old, big Chevys?

WryTrvllr on April 15, 2014 at 10:50 AM

Ed says if I just rent my house to bustybavarians.com, every night will be party night, plus my wiener gets a complementary schnitzel!

Seth Halpern on April 15, 2014 at 10:52 AM

One primary feature that I love about Air B&B compared to hotels is their pet friendliness. Our dog doesn’t do well at the kennel. It’s hard to travel with our four-legged, furry family member, but many air B&B places are pet friendly without an extra charge (or minimal).

conservative pilgrim on April 15, 2014 at 10:52 AM

This is no joke. A few years ago Elliot Spitzer used one of the luxury apartments in our condominium complex to bang a hooker. The story was front page in the ‘NY Post’ late last year. Hooker’s name is Rebecca Woodard.

Spitzer likes to play ‘rape roll playing’. For a one hour session (#1500 plus healthy tip of undisclosed amount), Spitzer “broke” into the luxury condo, dragged Woodward to the bed and punched and strangled her and then “raped” her. Woodard didn’t own or live in the apartment–it was under a corporate name.

People always assume that “bad” things can’t happen in “good” housing but hookers, madams, drug dealers, mafioso and liberals, alas, are among New York’s richest.

MaiDee on April 15, 2014 at 10:58 AM

Ed Morrissey on April 15, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Oh HEEEEEEEL NO. Never. That’s inviting disaster.

However, if that user wants to do it, live with the consequences.

blatantblue on April 15, 2014 at 11:01 AM

Thanks for the first-person perspective on being a renter! But would you rent out your own place on AirBnB while you were away? I’m curious.

Ed Morrissey on April 15, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Speaking as a ex-NY’er Ed, you gotta see that rental ANYTHING in Manhattan is well, insane…especially in the areas noted in the article.

Whenever someone I know wants to visit NY, the cheapest areas for them is usually in the outer boroughs….learn how to use the subway for the daytime, and be willing to pay for cab service at night, and you can visit the city rather cheaply…for now.

The CHEAPEST place on the island can start at $200 a night (pre-tax);and I’m talking about a serious dive, where the roaches serve as both busboys and entertainment.

Using the service may seem like a good idea, rental-wise, but in these times, can’t be surprised that this is happening. A lesser form of this usually is subscribed to Craigslist or one of the “Free” city papers you can pick up.

BlaxPac on April 15, 2014 at 11:02 AM

Does Zipcar rent really old, big Chevys?

WryTrvllr on April 15, 2014 at 10:50 AM

Not through Zipcar…there’s another ride share site…dang!…where you deal with the owner directly, and they’ll turn over their vehicle to you al-la Zipcar for however long you need, although I think the limit is 3 days consecutively…

BlaxPac on April 15, 2014 at 11:08 AM

People always assume that “bad” things can’t happen in “good” housing but hookers, madams, drug dealers, mafioso and liberals, alas, are among New York’s richest.

MaiDee on April 15, 2014 at 10:58 AM

How do you stand the liberals?

WryTrvllr on April 15, 2014 at 11:19 AM

Spitzer likes to play ‘rape roll playing’. For a one hour session (#1500 plus healthy tip of undisclosed amount), Spitzer “broke” into the luxury condo, dragged Woodward to the bed and punched and strangled her and then “raped” her. Woodard didn’t own or live in the apartment–it was under a corporate name.

Also explains his whole political career right there.

WryTrvllr on April 15, 2014 at 11:29 AM

We rent our cabin in NH through Airbnb and have had no problems. We are on site about 1/2 the time. I can see how in urban areas it could be abused though.

ksmoola1 on April 15, 2014 at 11:31 AM

I’m old or old fashioned, but this concept is so foreign to me I just can’t imagine it.

WitchDoctor on April 15, 2014 at 11:33 AM

Lord Jesus, save us…..

crosshugger on April 15, 2014 at 11:49 AM

Just wait till the state starts using civil asset forfeiture to take away those apartments because they were used in the commission of a crime.

Texas Zombie on April 15, 2014 at 12:33 PM

How do you stand the liberals?

WryTrvllr on April 15, 2014 at 11:19 AM

A very good question. The one wonderful thing about living in a big city is that you do not have to be neighborly. In fact, most New Yorkers do not even know who their neighbor are. Your car is parked in a parking garage across the street and, since people don’t know who you are, you could drive a Jaguar or a 14-year-old piece of junk with the paint peeling one and no one knows (or cares if they did know.)

In the suburbs (or even in many country areas) you are forced by circumstance to be neighborly which may or may not be the ideal situation-depending, to a large degree, on your neighbor! The point is that, in the city, you can pick and choose your friends. You can eliminate all pests and perverts including all liberals.

MaiDee on April 15, 2014 at 12:35 PM

#bigcityproblems

deepdiver on April 15, 2014 at 12:37 PM

ends up fitting the needs of a completely different leisure industry altogether

[Airplane:The Movie]“ends up fitting the needs of a completely different leisure industry”[/Airplane:The Movie]

jnelchef on April 15, 2014 at 1:20 PM

I used AirBnB in Philadelphia last August – it was a clean but sparsely furnished (bed, desk, bureau) studio apartment set up with fresh towels and linens for our 4 day stay. I never met the women who rented the place, but she was very responsive via email. It was a reasonably nice area for probably a third of what I would have paid for a hotel in the area.

As to renting out my own place, I certainly considered the idea when I heard about it. Boston is an extremely expensive city for housing (New York even more so) with lots of tourists. Offsetting the cost certainly does have appeal – though reading this certainly makes me more hesitant.

paa853 on April 15, 2014 at 4:26 PM

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?

Money.

Axe on April 15, 2014 at 6:34 PM

““It’s more discreet and much cheaper than The Waldorf,” said the sex worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

So is every single place on the entire island of Manhattan. Surely this can’t count as news.

Kevin M on April 15, 2014 at 9:46 PM