Landlords have been accused of exploiting young, vulnerable homeless people through online adverts offering free housing in exchange for sex. The “sex-for-rent” deals, which don’t break the law, can be found on classified ad websites such as craigslist. An investigation by the BBC found there were more than 100 such arrangements advertised on craigslist on one day, but the company is yet to comment on the matter.
Charities and Hove MP Peter Kyle said the ads are exploitative and he is now campaigning for them to be made illegal.
One young female student said she felt the “sex-for-rent” agreement was her only option. She described how her landlord took her into his living room, got her drinks, “and then after that it was just straight upstairs and go for it."
She told the BBC: "He would do what he wanted to do, forcefully, and I just sort of went along with it - after the third time, I started feeling physically unwell."
In all the adverts, the landlords were clear about how the deal would work. One ad, posted by a man in Maidstone, Kent, asked for a woman to move in and pretend to be his girlfriend. In another, a London landlord sought a “naughty girl” to live with him. While another advertised a double room in Rochester, Kent, in return for “services”, and an advert in Brighton addressed younger men.
Speaking to the BBC, one landlord said: "I was thinking once a week, something like that, I'm happy as long as there's sex involved."
Another said he and the tenant would “agree sort of like a couple of times a week, pop into my room sort of thing, but as far as the apartment's concerned, it's like completely as if we're flatmates. It's all the bills, the rent, free."
Landlords have defended the arrangements, with one comparing them to “friends with benefits” deals. "You can argue that high rent charged by landlords is taking advantage too. There's no compulsion for them to do this. Everyone goes into it with their eyes wide open,” he said. “Both sides have something the other person wants. I see it as a win-win situation."
But charities have condemned the adverts and warned of the risks. Andrew Wallis, from anti-slavery charity Unseen, said he believes the ads “go as close to the edge of the law that they possibly can without breaking the law.
“They would argue that they have chosen voluntarily to enter that situation,” he added. "The trouble is when you have a vulnerable person who then becomes exploited, the concept of choice soon disappears."
Mel Potter, from women's charity the Brighton Oasis Project, warned that the deals could potentially “trap someone and put them at risk of violence and abuse". Meanwhile Paul Noblet, from youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, said websites should consider monitoring and removing the ads under a voluntary code.
However, Kyle said websites should be forced by law to crack down on the problem. "If they don't stand up to this and then accept their responsibility, I will be pushing for legislation to do it for them.”
With some of society's most vulnerable young people forced into these situations by sky-high rents and a critical shortage of homes, evidence of these arrangement is yet another damning indictment of the UK's housing crisis.