50.50: News

Airbnb host caught on camera threatening to ‘smack’ guest in face

The man accused two women renting his flat of being ‘prostitutes’ and said no one would believe their complaints

Lauren Crosby Medlicott
6 January 2023, 2.54pm

An Airbnb host was caught on camera threatening to “smack” a woman in the face and calling her a ‘prostitute’ before telling her no one would believe her if she complained.

In the shocking video, seen by openDemocracy, the landlord says: “Film me and I’ll take that phone and smack it around your fucking jaw.”

Yet despite complaints to Airbnb and local police, the man has faced no sanction more than four months on. When contacted by openDemocracy, Airbnb claimed it had suspended the listing, but several others from the same landlord – including one in the same building – are still available to book as of 6 January.

The woman and her cousin, both of whom asked openDemocracy not to name them for fear of reprisals, were staying at the flat in Somerset, in the south-west of England, over the summer.

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At the end of August they say they received a phone call from the landlord threatening to physically attack them unless they left.

One of the women, Mary,* told openDemocracy she didn’t know who she was speaking to at first. “I asked him who it was and he said he was the ‘fucking landlord’, and that we were prostitutes running a business from [his] flat,” she claimed.

Shortly after the phone call on 31 August, the landlord let himself into the flat, where the women allege he threatened them again, made racist remarks and pinned one of them against the wall. Fearing for their safety, they began filming him.

He told them: “I’m not arguing with you. You are prostitutes operating from this apartment.” He went on to say he had seen men visiting the flat and accused the women of running an escort service there.

I was frightened. We are never going to be strong like a man. He could do anything with me. Could have beaten me

“He was very aggressive,” said Mary, 46. “I was frightened. We are women and never going to be strong like a man. He could do anything with me. Could have beaten me.”

Both women deny the landlord’s claim that they were doing sex work on the premises, saying they only had a few friends to visit during their stay.

The landlord briefly left the flat before returning with two other men, who were seen on the footage walking through each room. “He was going around the flat, opening the drawers and wardrobes,” Mary said.

By this time, Mary had called police, asking them to remain on the line until an officer arrived.

While on camera, the women asked the landlord to repeat what he had said to them before filming began. He claimed he could not remember, and then asked: “Who’s going to take the word of a prostitute over a businessman?”

Police arrived half an hour later. Mary says they calmed the man down, but also told the women they should leave as they had breached a rule about not hosting visitors.

The women agreed to leave that night and the police left, leaving them alone with the three men, who they say continued to harass and insult them as they packed their bags. When their taxi arrived, Mary claims the landlord even tried to tell the driver not to take them because they were prostitutes.

Other properties from the same landlord are still available to book on Airbnb as of 6 January

She says she made a complaint to Airbnb the following day but has yet to hear back. Airbnb told openDemocracy it had been unable to contact Mary because she had closed her account following negative feedback from the landlord in question.

The women have also struggled to get help from police, even with the support of grassroots campaign group Legal Action for Women. Mary told openDemocracy that an officer had texted her twice to arrange to take a statement but that, when she rang back, no one answered.

Legal Action for Women received a text message reply in mid-November from an officer reading: “I am sorry I was not answering your calls, but I was on annual leave, off duty for a couple of weeks. I can say that the male was spoken to about his behaviour that evening.”

A spokesperson from Avon and Somerset Police told openDemocracy: “One of the attending officers subsequently made two attempts to contact the women to arrange for statements to be made but has not yet heard back. The women also have not attended a police station to provide statements. Should either of the women want to make a statement, they can still make arrangements to do so by calling 101.”

An Airbnb spokesperson said they would continue to look into the matter and take appropriate next steps if necessary. “We were deeply concerned to learn about this and are investigating the matter,” the spokesperson told openDemocracy. “The safety of our community is paramount and everyone who uses Airbnb must agree to abide by our community standards. Violations of our safety policies can result in removal from the platform.”

*Name has been changed

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