Lawsuit filed by Leslie Lapayowker accuses Airbnb of negligence after she said she was attacked by a host who was not properly screened
An Airbnb guest is seeking to hold the company accountable for an alleged sexual assault, claiming in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit that she was attacked by a host who was not properly screened.
The suit, filed Thursday by Leslie Lapayowker, raises fresh questions about the tech firms legal responsibilities when hosts violate laws or engage in criminal conduct.
Lapayowker is accusing Airbnb of negligence when it allowed her to rent a room from Carlos Del Olmo, who was previously accused of domestic violence.
I dont want this to happen to other women, Lapayowker, a 51-year-old New Mexico woman, told the Guardian. 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.
Reached by phone, Del Olmo said he was not aware of the complaint and vehemently denied the sexual assault allegation, noting that criminal charges were never filed. An Airbnb spokesperson said that it had conducted a background check on Del Olmo, but because he was not convicted in a previous case, he was allowed to be a host. The company also said it removed him from the site after learning of Lapayowkers claims.
Lapayowker moved to Los Angeles in July of 2016 for a new job as a mortgage broker and had planned to live in Del Olmos Airbnb for a month while looking for permanent housing. Del Olmo, who was renting a studio attached to his house, was a verified user and considered a superhost for Airbnb, meaning he had positive reviews and frequently had guests.
I assumed that I would be in especially good hands, said Lapayowker.
But, according to the suit, Del Olmo immediately made her uncomfortable by making sexually suggestive comments, pounding on her windshield while she was in her car and screaming at his son loud enough so she could hear.
He scared me, she added.
Lapayowker decided to leave after three nights, and when she returned to get a laptop she left and told him she was moving out early, Del Olmo said he wanted to show her something of importance inside the studio, the suit said.
He then allegedly locked the door, dropped his shorts and began masturbating in front of her, demanding that she touch him and taste it. He ignored her pleas to stop, shoved his tongue into her mouth and eventually ejaculated into a trashcan, according to the lawsuit.
He then let her leave the room, saying, Dont forget to leave me a positive review on Airbnb, the complaint said.
I was completely in shock. I was totally numb, Lapayowker recalled, saying she initially hesitated calling police. I was terrified he would find out where I live and come after me.
Later that month, she reported the incident to police and to Airbnb, which banned Del Olmo from the site. Authorities ultimately declined to file charges, because officials said there was not enough evidence, according to Lapayowkers attorney. Prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But an attorney for Lapayowker discovered that Del Olmo had an earlier arrest in Florida for a battery charge and domestic violence case. A police report said that, according to the victims account, he had pulled her hair and dragged her during an argument. He entered a diversion program, which is an alternative to prosecution, the records showed.
Lapayowker, who had previously been an Airbnb superhost herself, said she was in disbelief when she learned of the past case: I was just furious. Why would they let somebody like this be a host?
An Airbnb spokesperson said it runs background checks on all US hosts and guests, looking for matches with terrorist watch lists, felony convictions, sex offender registries and significant misdemeanors.
The abhorrent behavior described has no place in our community and we will not tolerate it. We have been trying to support her in any way we can and we will continue to do so, the company said in a statement to the Guardian.
Del Olmo claimed the encounter with Lapayowker was consensual. He said: This woman just fully lied and made everything up. He said that the woman in the Florida case also lied and noted that he was not convicted.
He also argued that it was unfair for Airbnb to kick him off the platform: Airbnb has no respect for the homeowner who is the one putting themselves in a liability situation.
Teresa Li, Lapayowkers attorney, argued that Airbnb misleads users with branding that emphasizes the safety of the platform and calling it a trusted community marketplace.
They lure you in and give you this false sense of security, she said.
Lapayowker, who said she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, said she felt Airbnb didnt take her case seriously: I feel like they dont care. Their entire model is to just get as much business as possible.