Airbnb operators in Iceland have on occasion requested police assistance due to suspicion that their properties are being used for sex work, RÚV reports. Chief Superintendent Grímur Grímsson says such cases are regularly brought to police but there is little they can do about them.
Thousands of properties across Iceland are available for short-term rental through the Airbnb website. It is common for sex work to be conducted in short-term rental apartments. Inflation and rising mortgage rates are leading more and more people to rent their homes through Airbnb. While some of the properties are exclusively rental properties, others are people’s homes that they rent out temporarily while they are away.
High demand for sex work
“People often inform us that they suspect that prostitution is being sold in an apartment they rent out. It seems to me that there is an incredibly high supply of this on these sites that we monitor, and that must mean that there is also a demand,” stated Grímur. He added that clients are mainly Icelanders but that the increase in the number of tourists has led to an increase in demand.
An Icelandic Airbnb host who spoke to RÚV on condition of anonymity reported finding pictures taken in their rental property on a website used by sex workers to advertise services. Airbnb’s terms and conditions state that commercial sex work is not permitted on premises rented through the site. However, how such activities can be prevented or responded to is rather unclear. Hosts are not permitted to kick out guests unless they have broken rules that are explicitly stated in the advertisement for the property, and few such advertisements state that sex work is not permitted. Airbnb advises hosts to contact the police in such cases.
Difficult for police to intervene
“We cannot intervene when it comes to making people leave the apartments,” Grímur says, adding that the issue is complicated. “Because [in Iceland] it is not forbidden to sell prostitution but it is forbidden to buy it. What we have done when we have gone into these cases where we are looking into whether prostitution is being bought [is] we are trying to interfere with those who are buying the prostitution, not the sellers.”
Grímur encouraged Airbnb hosts to avoid approving guests without several previous reviews on Airbnb as a method of preventing their properties being used for commercial activities.