You don’t expect to come back from a four-week holiday to a note from the police explaining that your apartment has been raided for prostitution. But that’s exactly what has just happened to two young women in Stockholm, who shared their story with The Kernel this afternoon on condition of anonymity.
The women found pubic hair and a plastic bag of used condoms in their apartment, along with other detritus from a “temporary brothel” that had been set up in her home by guests, who rented the flat via online home rental service Airbnb. When the incident was reported, the company immediately put the women up in one of Stockholm’s most expensive hotels while arrangements were made for the property to be professionally cleaned.
The note, left by Stockholm County Police, was discovered in among the roommates’ mail when they returned from their four-week holiday. It revealed that police had raided the apartment the previous evening, Saturday 11 August, and caught two call girls in flagrante delicto with clients.
The prostitutes were from Dublin, and had been under police surveillance since arriving in Sweden. They were described by one of the apartment owners as: “looking very high class, with business suits… it was strange that they would rent an apartment when they clearly could afford a hotel”. On arrival, they had asked for directions to Café Opera, a nightclub in Stockholm.
“We feel uneasy about being in our own apartment after this,” said the homeowner.
Airbnb has enjoyed healthy growth since its launch in 2008, despite being plagued by horror stories: meth addicts with stolen identities trashing homes in the US have become a running joke and a public relations nightmare for the service. Some commentators have suggested that the lack of oversight and regulation around private rentals might even be encouraging organised crime.
“Advertising rooms on the internet without legal safeguards,” wrote TechCrunch’s Paul Carr in 2010, “is great until the platform is used by gangsters and slum lords to drive families from their apartments and fleece tourists into spending their vacations under unsafe roofs.”
This latest incident does not appear to be isolated: similar reports have emerged from London, New York and eastern Europe about Airbnb being leveraged for nefarious purposes. But this is perhaps the most graphic and unpleasant story to have emerged in the last few months.
It will come as an embarrassment to Airbnb so soon after the company announced its most popular booking day ever, during which it notched up 60,000 guests.
Airbnb, which has raised $120 million in venture capital funding to date from investors such as Sequoia Capital, Digital Sky Technologies, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and actor Ashton Kutcher, released the following statement this afternoon.
“We’re appalled to hear about this and we will work with the local authorities to investigate the situation. We’re also providing ongoing support to the host. While this situation is being investigated, we can’t comment further.”