Airbnb Horror Story: When a Guest Won't Go Away

You can check out any time you like, but you gotta leave.
You can check out any time you like, but you gotta leave. Jfanchin/iStock
An Airbnb horror story came to life in Dallas earlier this month, when a Richardson woman says she was harassed by a man whom she hosted in her apartment through the app.

Alavia Khawaja, 24, says she hosted Airbnb guest Leonard Jackson on Oct. 11. She had been renting space to Airbnb guests since September and nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but when she came home she saw that Jackson had rummaged through her apartment and, she alleges, stolen money.

“He picked my bedroom door lock. He threw out all pictures I had of men. He was going through my stuff and stole about $500,” she claims. “I kicked him out and called the police.”

She said the Richardson Police Department wouldn’t take her claims seriously unless Jackson confessed to the crime, and her calls to Airbnb went nowhere.

Jackson continued to call and text Khawaja with propositions of marriage and even a request for condoms, which culminated on Oct. 20, when Jackson told her he was going to pay her a visit.
click to enlarge Texts between Khawaja and Jackson. Airbnb guests and hosts can gain access to each others' phone numbers through the app. - ALAVIA KHAWAJA
Texts between Khawaja and Jackson. Airbnb guests and hosts can gain access to each others' phone numbers through the app.
Alavia Khawaja
Khawaja said she called the police but they told her they couldn’t help unless he was on the property.

“They said, ‘When you see him, call 911,’ and I was like, ‘Are you serious?’” Khawaja said. “He kept saying, ‘I’m coming, I’m coming, I’m coming,’ so I went to my car and I parked it on the other side of the parking lot so I could see my door, and as soon as I saw him, I called the police.”

According to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, the Richardson police arrested Jackson that day for criminal trespassing, but he left jail three days later on a $500 bond. According to the department, three days before the trespassing charge, he was arrested for unlawfully carrying a weapon but bonded out the next day.

Khawaja wasn’t the first person in Dallas Jackson tried to get in touch with through Airbnb, and she wasn’t the last.
click to enlarge ALAVIA KHAWAJA
Alavia Khawaja
Another Dallas resident says she almost hosted Jackson through Airbnb two weeks earlier but called Airbnb to remove him as a guest when his texts to her began increasing in a way that made her nervous.

A Rockwall resident who asked that her name not be revealed for fear of retaliation says she hosted him through Airbnb after Khawaja did — despite Khawaja’s report to Airbnb about the incident, Jackson was still on the app — and says she also called the police on him when he randomly showed up at her door asking to come inside. In the days that followed, he texted her frequently, even inviting her to stay with him.

A spokesperson for Airbnb said in a statement that incidents like this one are rare on the platform, which has found short-term lodging in private homes for more than 400 million guests.

“This reported behavior is abhorrent and unacceptable, and has no place on Airbnb. We have removed this guest from our platform and are in contact with local law enforcement to offer our assistance. Our initial response to this incident was simply too slow and we are working to fully support our host,” Airbnb said in the statement.
click to enlarge ALAVIA KHAWAJA
Alavia Khawaja
Khawaja says she is finishing out the rest of her Airbnb guests she booked this month since the app charges hosts for cancellations. After that, she says she’s done with Airbnb.

A Twitter thread she made about the incident recently went viral and connected her with other people who had similar stories.

“Because of that tweet, a lot of people have been sharing their own stories of harassment with me, and a couple of them end with someone getting killed,” she says.

Jackson has a warrant out for his arrest by the Richardson Police Department for theft of property.
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Nashwa Bawab is an editorial fellow at the Dallas Observer and a recent journalism graduate from The University of Texas at Austin. She's from Arlington and is excited to begin writing important stories from DFW.
Contact: Nashwa Bawab