• Trio accused of running brothel out of Midtown home they rented on Airbnb

    By: Kristin Leigh


    MEMPHIS, Tenn. - People in Midtown are questioning Airbnb’s user standards after Memphis police arrested three people for using a rental home as a brothel in Cooper Young.

    Neighbors told FOX13 they’re nervous about guests coming and going after the prostitution sting Sunday.

    “I was seeing a steady parade of single men that were coming in and going for 15 minutes at a time,” a neighbor, who asked only to be identified as Jeff, said.

    “It was pretty brazen,” Jeff continued. “that’s one of the reasons it was so hard to believe, because it was happening in the open right in front of us.”

    Travis Young, Shanice Johnson, and Tahlia Hecht are charged with running a brothel in the Airbnb home they rented on Oliver Avenue from July 14 through the 17, according to a police report.

    David Harris was at the home Wednesday, cleaning up the mess the renters left behind.

    “There’s condoms on the floor,” Harris told FOX13. “Every single dirty thing you can imagine is probably in there.”

    The cleaning crew comes to the home after each renter leaves, Harris said.

    “Today was a little bit different,” Harris said. “This has ruined Airbnb for me.”

    Multiple people in the community said they believe the rental app needs higher standards.

    “Whatever happened here doesn’t need to happen to anyone else,” Jeff said.

    Airbnb’s website says the company performs background checks on some of its users, but warns hosts and guests that the scope of the search is limited and not all users can be vetted.

    “Although background checks may help identify past criminal conduct where records are available, background checks don’t always identify a person’s past crimes or other red flags,” Airbnb’s webpage about background checks states. “Due to the way certain databases are maintained, there may be gaps in the coverage provided by public records searches.”

    Airbnb also warns its users that searches are more limited for international travelers, than they are for tourists from the U.S.

    “If we have enough information to identify a guest or host who lives outside the United States, we may, to the extent permitted by applicable laws and to the extent available, obtain the local version of background or registered sex offender checks,” the website states.

    If a search returns criminal records, Airbnb says it bans users who have been convicted of the following crimes:

    • A violent crime
    • Certain sexual offenses, including serious sex offenses and prostitution
    • Felony drug-related offense
    • Certain fraud and dishonesty offenses, including identity theft
    • Certain theft offenses
    • Offenses involving certain types of property damage
    • Certain invasion of privacy offenses

    In a statement to FOX13, Airbnb’s spokesperson said:

    “Airbnb has zero tolerance for this type of behavior and we are outraged over what has reportedly taken place. We immediately removed this user from our community and we are fully supporting our host. Airbnb runs background checks on all US residents using the platform and we are urgently investigating this in coordination with local law enforcement.”

    When asked if Airbnb goes far enough to protect hosts and their neighbors, Harris said, “I don’t think they do at all. They should do a lot more to weed out this kind of thing.”

    A concerned neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous, contacted police about the activity at the home, according to the police report.

    Neighbors said the homeowners on Oliver Avenue are out of town, but they took the home off of the popular rental app after Sunday’s arrests.

    “The owners of the home are great people, and they rented it out before,” Jeff said. “We’ve never had an issue. This was definitely unusual.”

    Young is charged with promoting prostitution, money laundering, and drug possession, according to court records. Johnson and Hecht are charged with prostitution and drug possession.

    Airbnb tells its users to rely heavily on peer reviews to vet one another. Guests and hosts rate each other after a visit, allowing future users to get a sense of a person’s reputation with the rental service.

    “We've got kids and families,” Jeff said. “I was doing yard work. Kids are riding bikes up and down the street. You just don’t think that's happening right next door.”

    Airbnb also sent FOX13 the following tips for Airbnb hosts:

    1.     Set Requirements for Your Listing: Each and every person on Airbnb has a detailed profile page with information about themselves. In order to sign up for Airbnb, you must provide a full name, date of birth, photo, phone number, and email address. Hosts can choose to require that their guests provide Airbnb a government ID before booking their listing, which then requires you as a host to do so as well.

    2.     Get To Know Your Guest in Advance: On the Airbnb platform, we have a safe and easy way for hosts to get to know their prospective guest before confirming a reservation. Our secure messaging tool lets you ask each other questions, and set clear expectations for the stay.

    3.     Read Previous Community Reviews: You also have our global community to rely on. If you’re curious what a previous host’s experience has been with a potential guest, all you need to do is check their reviews ahead of time. Both guests and hosts publicly review each other and only do so after the reservation is complete, so you know the feedback is informed, unbiased, and real.


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