UPDATE: Airbnb has reached out to IBTimes SG Sunday to comment on the matter. Read the comment of Airbnb's global head of risk and trust management Nick Shapiro as reflected in a new story. Link here.
Airbnb is being taken to the court for the first time because of a host's alleged sexual misconduct. According to a guest's court filing, the home rental company is negligent of its security regulations.
Leslie Lapayowker on Thursday filed the lawsuit at the San Francisco Superior Court, accusing a certain Carlos Del Olmo of sexually harassing her while she stayed at his studio apartment attached to his Los Angeles home in July 2016. Del Olmo had the "superhost" badge of Airbnb, which means he is an extraordinary host based on the company's set of criteria, including five-star reviews.
Lapayowker, an Airbnb superhost herself, claimed that the home rental firm did not screen hosts like Del Olmo who violate laws or engage in criminal behaviour, accusing the company of negligence because it allowed her to rent Del Olmo's space who was previously accused of domestic violence.
In an interview with The Guardian, the plaintiff said, "I don't want this to happen to other women. It was horrible, and I think that everybody should be warned that this could potentially happen to them or their daughter or their wife or their sister".
Lapayowker, a 51-year-old woman who comes from New Mexico, moved to Los Angeles in July 2016 for a new job and planned to stay at Del Olmo's studio apartment for a month while she was still looking for a permanent home. Since Del Olmo is labelled as a superhost, she expected that she "would be in especially good hands".
What had happened
According to the court filing, Lapayowker started to become uncomfortable and scared when Del Olmo was making sexually suggestive comments, shouting at his son, and pounding her car's windshield. After three nights of stay, she informed the host that she is leaving. But before she could even get all her things packed, Del Olmo was quoted saying, "I wanted to show you something of importance inside the studio".
He allegedly locked the door, undress his shorts, and started masturbating before her, asking her to touch him and "taste it". Despite Lapayowker pleaded him to stop, Del Olmo shoved his tongue into her mouth. After he ejaculated, the guest left the apartment as he told her to leave a positive review on Airbnb.
"I was completely in shock", says Lapayowker. "I was totally numb". She added that she had second thoughts calling the police because Del Olmo might be able to find her new address and get back to her in the future.
Later in July, she reported the host to Airbnb, which banned him from the site. However, Airbnb refused to file charges against Del Olmo since there was no sufficient evidence.
Per Airbnb's regulations, they do background checks to ensure their hosts and guests are not in the terrorist watch lists, felony convictions, sex offenders' registries, and significant misdemeanours. According to Lapayowker's lawyer, Teresa Li, Del Olmo was arrested in Florida for a domestic violence case and battery charge, to which the defendant commented: "I was just furious. Why would they let somebody like this be a host?"
Del Olmo's statement
Del Olmo, however, denied all of Lapayowker's sexual assault allegation, noting that the encounter was "consensual". He also denied that he was convicted once in Florida. "This woman just fully lied and made everything up", says Del Olmo.
The defendant added that it is unfair on his part that Airbnb removed him from the platform, saying: "Airbnb has no respect for the homeowner...who is the one putting themselves in a liability situation".
This is not the first time that Airbnb has faced complaints from guests. It has been subject to criticisms several times already due to hosts racially discriminating guests and infringing local housing laws.
Li said that Airbnb is misleading its guests. "They lure you in and give you this false sense of security", says Li.