In 2017, Leslie Lapayowker filed a civil lawsuit against Airbnb. The suit claims Airbnb played a negligent role in Lapayowker’s sexual assault. This lawsuit was the first of its kind in its attempt to hold Airbnb accountable for an assault committed by a host.
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Airbnb Host Sexually Assaults Guest
In July 2016, Lapayowker moved to Los Angeles for a new job. While she was looking for a permanent home, Lapayowker rented a studio apartment from Carlos Del Olmo.
Del Olmo was an Airbnb “verified” user and “super host.” He had positive reviews from previous guests and frequently rented out the studio. Lapayowker expressed initial reassurance in her rental decision given Del Olmo’s positive reputation.
Yet, according to the lawsuit, the host immediately made Lapayowker feel uncomfortable. Del Olmo made sexually suggestive comments to her and screamed at his son in front of her. Additionally, he pounded on the windshield when she was sitting in her car.
His aggressive behavior scared Lapayowker enough that she left after three nights. She returned later to retrieve her laptop and to notify Del Olmo of her decision to move out early.
The lawsuit alleges Del Olmo responded by claiming he wanted to show her something in the studio. Then, Del Olmo allegedly locked the door and removed his shorts. He proceeded to masturbate in front of her, telling her to touch him. At one point, he forced his tongue into her mouth.
According to the suit, Del Olmo refused to stop despite Lapayowker’s requests. He then ejaculated into a trash can. Once he was done, Del Olmo let her leave.
Due to the fear of retaliation, Lapayowker did not initially report the incident to the police.
“I was completely in shock. I was totally numb. I was terrified he would find out where I live and come after me.”
“Super Host” Has History Of Violence
Lapayowker did report the assault to the police and Airbnb later that month. Airbnb banned Del Olmo from the site. But, the police did not press charges against Del Olmo, citing a lack of evidence.
However, Lapayowker’s legal counsel found Del Olmo was previously arrested in Florida. In 2013, Del Olmo faced battery and domestic violence charges. He avoided prosecution by participating in a diversion program.
At the time, Airbnb’s background check reviewed U.S. hosts and guests for serious red flags, including:
- A match on terrorist watch lists
- A match on sex offender registries
- Felony or serious misdemeanor convictions
Because he avoided conviction, Del Olmo’s criminal actions in Florida avoided Airbnb’s scrutiny.
Del Olmo claims the incident was consensual and that Airbnb unfairly removed him from the platform.
Airbnb Denies Liability
According to Lapayowker’s legal counsel, Airbnb’s marketing is misleading. The rental company’s branding highlights safety and trust, but the company does little to ensure the safety of its users.
Although Airbnb removed Del Olmo from the site, the company continues to defend its screening process. However, Lapayowker’s suit claims a thorough background check would have discovered Del Olmo’s arrest and the charges against him. An Airbnb spokesperson refused to disclose whether Airbnb knew about Del Olmo’s prior arrest.
This is not the first example of sexual violence associated with Airbnb. Victims and their family members have reported sexual assaults at short-term rental properties all over the world.
There is no way to determine how often sexual assaults occur at short-term rental properties. However, as more survivors speak up and take legal action, rental companies may be forced to do more to ensure users’ safety.
Levin, S. (2017, July 27). Airbnb sued by woman who says she was sexually assaulted by ‘superhost.’ The Guardian.
Vora, S. (2017, August 2). Airbnb Sued by Guest Who Says a Host Sexually Assaulted Her. The New York Times.