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'My Airbnb flat was turned into a pop-up brothel'

Aftermath of a party Image copyright Getty Images

Police have warned owners of short-term holiday lets that their properties are increasingly being used for prostitution. Colin (not his real name) contacted the BBC when he discovered the flat he rents out on Airbnb had been turned into a pop-up brothel. Here he tells his story, while below Charlotte - a sex worker who rents short-term lets in a different part of the country - explains why she goes "on tour".

Colin: I feel like I've been conned. I feel like I've been deceived and forced into doing something that I wouldn't ordinarily have done.

I lived here for six years, then I moved away, so I'm letting it out.

You could get four people in here, so [£85 per night] is pretty good compared to a hotel rate.

They made a booking through the Airbnb website. They messaged and said that they wanted to pay cash, which I was a little bit suspicious of, and I refused that.

It's not only against the rules, but also if anything goes wrong then it's a booking that's outside of the website and not covered by any of the guarantees. You might as well just get someone in off the street.

So when they checked in I was a little bit suspicious, but I thought little else of it.

They texted [on the day they were due to leave] and said, "We've had a heavy night, can we leave a couple of hours later?" And a name was on there. It was quite an unusual name, so I just thought: "Well, let's have a look and Google this."


Find out more

  • Colin contacted BBC Radio 4's iPM programme to talk about his experiences
  • Listen to him and Charlotte on the BBC iPlayer

When you put that name into Google plus the lead guest's name, there was a picture of the two together, and that's when I found a story about them acting as high-profile escorts.

Looking at both their ads, some of the rates were about £1,300 a night. So if they were fully booked for the two nights that's £2,600 each - £5,200 in total.

The feeling was a bit like when I had to rush home from work a couple of years ago because I thought I'd left a tea towel on the hob. It felt like the place was burning down.

So I came into the flat. It smelled of wine and perfume.

I found used condom wrappers under the bed, I found the bin was overflowing with tissues and condoms. And basically what I had to do was pick all that up with my hands.

There were probably about seven or eight wine bottles as well - they'd got through a fair bit of Prosecco and a fair bit of Pinot Grigio.

It might seem a strange thing to say, but one of the things that really surprises me is that if they want to carry on doing this, how easy would it have been for them to clear up their own tracks? Quite easy.

And then they might even have ended up with a repeat booking. So it actually surprised me that they were that bad at cleaning up after themselves.

Image copyright Stockbyte

I called the police and I told them everything. I gave them all the information possible, because what I was worried about was basically ensuring I hadn't broken the law as well by renting the place out to them.

The police took down all the information. They took my contact details, I got a crime reference number. Then I heard nothing further.

I did inquire again about it and follow it up. They basically said, "Well, you may well not hear from us again but we have taken it down as intelligence."

As far as I know I won't hear anything back from the police at all. I feel a bit let down.

It's not just that I feel bad for myself but I feel bad for other people as well who might be renting out in good faith then, unwittingly, potentially committing a crime.

I want to sell [the flat] now, I just want rid of it, to be honest. I really, really liked living here. I love the place but unfortunately it's not worth it at all.

Airbnb commented: "We have zero tolerance for this type of behaviour and are urgently investigating this case. Over 160 million people have travelled on Airbnb and bad experiences are extremely rare."

Charlotte: Going on tour, I either rent holiday apartments or I use hotels.

I do two or three days here and there. I always come back to Devon once a month. I've built up a nice client base in Kent and I'm just starting to branch out in West London.

There's all sorts of apps that you can use. They're really easy to access.

At the end of the day, if you're renting an apartment or short term-let - holiday apartments, anything like that - providing you're leaving that property in the condition you found it in, I don't see what the problem is.

Image copyright Alamy
Image caption Charlotte tours the south of England to sell sex

When I was living in Exeter I had my own apartment to work from. I was able to have my own routine, to vet clients.

I had a screen on the buzzing system so I could see who I was buzzing in. I was able to ensure my own safety.

But when I did a documentary with Rupert Everett in 2014 my next-door neighbour saw it, made a complaint against me and I was evicted from my family home.

The start-up costs of being able to get your own property to work from are massive. You've got your month's rent and then a month's rent in advance, the security deposit - sometimes it's not financially viable.


What is the law in the UK?

  • It is legal to sell and buy sex in all of the UK except for Northern Ireland, where it is illegal to pay for sex
  • However, many activities related to sex work are criminalised, including soliciting sex and keeping a brothel
  • If more than one person is available in a premises for paid sex, then that is a brothel - however, if a sex worker works alone, they are not keeping a brothel

So short-term lets and hotels are probably the only other answer but the downfall with that is that you've not got that safety element of being able to understand the local area.

You don't know who any of the dangerous clientele could be because you've not already got that experience there.

I would never go on tour on my own to a new place that I've never been to before. No way. Because there is no safety agency or union out there that I can tell where I am or what I'm doing.

So if I was going to try a new area then of course I will want another worker there with me. But the unfortunate thing is, that is breaking the law - two sex workers working together.

And until we decriminalise sex work, sex workers will never be safe by not being able to work in pairs.

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