This article originally appeared on VICE Denmark
Earlier this year, news broke that Copenhagen had seen a rise in the number of apartments that were being rented through online marketplaces like AirBnB, only to be used as brothels. For 26-year-old Pernille, what was supposed to be a fun adventure through Southeast Asia turned into a thriller featuring a Czech sex worker, threatening pimps and more cum-stained paper towels than the mind can fathom. This is her story.
In January, I left Copenhagen for a six-week-long trip through Malaysia and Thailand with my friend Stine. We were going to backpack, try delicious food, experience foreign cultures and of course try the inevitable bucket. We couldn't wait. Before we left, I tried to rent out my apartment in Copenhagen through a peer-to-peer property rental company – which I'd done a couple of times before without a problem. I didn't have any luck in finding any lodgers this time around though, so I just figured I would have to tighten my budget a little. The company I was using was like AirBnB, only smaller – which gave me the sense that it somehow made the quality of their customer services better. I was about to get a lot smarter.
Halfway through the trip, Stine and I are lying hungover on a beach in Koh Phi Phi after a night of one too many buckets, when I get an instant message from this girl, who's interested in renting my place for an entire week starting the next day. I have already overspent, and a week would pay around 5,000 kroner (about €670) so I don't evaluate the situation all that critically. All I need is someone at home to stop by the apartment, change the sheets, clean a little and give them the key.
The girl's name is Kitti* and she is from the Czech Republic. She looks cute on her photo – nothing out of the ordinary – and I find her on Facebook too, so I figure she's legit. Her English is not great but I learn that she and her boyfriend are driving to Copenhagen, while another couple they're traveling with will be arriving by plane. She asks me if they can pay cash because of some problem with the bank transfer. I won't be covered by the rental company if the payment doesn't go through them though, so I tell her they can't. In the end, she finds a friend with a German bank account and they're able to transfer through him. The conversation strikes me as a little strange but I just figure they're just being really spontaneous on their road trip through Europe. The booking is confirmed and I get the money.
A couple of days pass and I hear nothing from them so in my head, no news is good news. Then Kitti texts me and says they would like to extend their stay by another week. "Sweet. More money = more buckets," I think to myself. The issue with transferring money arises again, and this time, when they ask if they can pay cash, I reluctantly agree to it. My friend Line had agreed to fix up the apartment for me, so they take a trip to her place with an envelope full of cash. She later told me that Kitti's boyfriend looked kinda old for her and that Kitti had surprisingly bad teeth. Also, they'd said they were late to meet her because they'd had dinner at McDonalds. I'm not sure why that's weird but I just figured I'd give you all the info I got.
About a week later, Stine and I find ourselves in Northern Thailand, where we are blessed by a Buddhist monk in a temple in Chiang Mai. Immediately after, both of our wallets are stolen, so we joke that the blessing was actually a jinx. We have no idea what's in store. We get to Bangkok, and I wake up the next morning to a missed call and a text from my brother saying, "Call me. Something is up with your apartment." I can't reach him due to the time difference, so I text him back telling him to call me when he wakes up – but only if it's really serious.
We're nearing the end of our trip, so Stine and I book a day-trip to the historic city of Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok, even though I feel very iffy about it, since we probably won't have any cell coverage and I still haven't heard from my brother. Stine calms me down and we end up going. On the way there, we talk about what the worst-case scenario could possibly be. I imagine they've held a giant rave at the apartment and made a huge mess or something. That's as far as my imagination goes.
I'm in the middle of the giant square in front of the temple ruins when my brother calls me. As soon as I see his name on the screen, anxiety kicks in.
– "Hi, so did they trash the whole place, or..?" I say, thinking I'm prepared for the worst possible answer.
– "Umm, no… but they're sort of running a brothel in there," he replies.
I'm completely speechless, because that is definitely not a scenario I had in mind. Lacking a better response, I start crying, while a group of Thai schoolboys on a field trip start are laughing and pointing at me. Stine comes running and asks what is going on, and the only thing I manage to do is shout: "It's a prostitute! There's a prostitute!"
Once I regain my composure, my brother explains that several of my neighbours got in touch with him to say they are getting suspicious because they keep seeing men coming and going form my house, in half-hour intervals, at all times of the day. The night before, my upstairs neighbour had apparently gone down to my flat to tell my lodgers that smoking isn't allowed, only to be greeted by a smiling Kitti in a tiny, satin-kimono and 6-inch heels, who thought he was a client. My downstairs neighbour could apparently hear her walking around in heels all the time, along with what she judged to be some kind of strip show. And then there was the moaning. Apparently, there had been a lot of it. And it was loud.
I tell my brother to do something but he's reluctant to go there because the neighbours have told him that there are two older, burly guys staying in the apartment with Kitti. I obviously want these people out of my home as soon as possible, so in the midst of temple ruins, Thai schoolboys and lousy 3G, I try to get a hold of several of my friends at home, but they're all too scared to go by my apartment. In the end, Stine and I agree that we can't really do much more until we get back to the hotel and have proper cell service.
We've barely made it into the lobby when I call the Danish police, and get a hold of a particularly rigid officer. I'm literally sobbing into the phone, as she tells me that "this is the sort of thing you can expect when you rent out your apartment for some extra cash." Because prostitution is legal in Denmark, there really isn't anything they can do, she explains. Instead, I should talk to the rental company.
I start looking for a phone number on the rental company's website but there is nothing to be found. All they have is this live chat, where I get a "Thanks for your request, we'll be back shortly" kind of response. I google them and find a bunch of one-star reviews, with people claiming that it's practically impossible to get a hold of their customer services and that if a problem arises, you're totally on your own.
I don't know what else to do at this point, so I call Kitti. "Hello Kitti, I know what's going on. You're doing something illegal, and you have to leave right now," I say. Her reply is just a high-pitched "Noooo!" After some back and forth, I start to get angry but then I hear the doorbell ringing in her end. Thinking it's a client of hers, I scream through the phone, "No, Kitti! Do not open that door! DO NOT OPEN THAT DOOR!" Finally, she agrees to leave on the condition that they get their money back for the extra week they'd already paid for. That sends me over the edge so I hiss, "No, no, you're not getting any money back from me," and terminate the call.
Right after, my phone starts ringing again, and it's one of the guys (pimps, I assume) saying that if they are to get out sooner than agreed, they'd need their money back. I threaten to call the police on them but he threatens me right back, saying that I'm the one who stole money from them. I panic and agree that a friend of mine will come by and hand over the cash. During all of this I feel like I'm in a bad TV-movie. At one point, I literally have my head in the toilet while on the phone. The feeling of helplessness makes me physically ill. My home has been turned into a brothel and no one can help me. All the while the pimps keep calling me every ten minutes asking, "When your friend come?"
Just when I think this whole thing can't get any worse, my downstairs neighbour starts sending me photos that show Kitti and the guys leaving the apartment in a hurry with a bunch of bags and suitcases. Thinking they are now also robbing me, I finally get a hold of my friend Maria, who goes into total warrior mode, runs to a cashpoint and then to my apartment. My neighbour says that they've all left the apartment and are now sitting in their van outside waiting for the money, so Maria meets her at the back entrance of the building and they both go in to check out the apartment without my lodgers knowing. I'm on FaceTime with both of them, following the action in real time, heart pounding, when they step through the front door.
The first thing they notice is that it's extremely hot in my flat, and I can see that all of my plants are slouching dead in their pots. They both emit a symphony of 'argh's and 'EEEW's from different rooms while checking out the apartment. Nothing has been taken but all of the sudden, I hear Maria laughing. She's found an industrial-sized roll of paper towels and three trash bags full of cum paper and used condoms. From the looks of it, Kitty and the boys haven't been eating much besides canned fish and cup noodles, which is scattered all over the kitchen. But they've bought six organic, free-range eggs, so at least they were conscious consumers.
Even though Maria and my neighbour are already inside the apartment, I don't want to risk it so I ask Maria to go outside and return the money. Which she does promptly, albeit with a passive-aggressive "You probably don't deserve this." They don't respond, they just drive off.
A couple of days later, another friend picks me up at the airport and, together, we pick up some rubber gloves and disinfectant on the way and go to town on the apartment. I have never seen that many stains on one sheet. The used condoms and condom wrappers are spread all over the floor like confetti. There is also a mask with cat ears and whiskers in my closet, as well as fishnet stockings, make-up covered cotton swabs and so much cum paper – stuffed into every crack, crevice and corner of my apartment. The grand prize, however, goes to the three used pregnancy tests I found stashed on top of my bathroom mirror a month later.
I actually feel totally fine living here now – six months later – but it took me a while. Obviously, I had the locks changed immediately but I was still worried that Kitti's boys might come back or that there would be clients waiting in front of the apartment when I got home late at night. My case against the rental company isn't over yet, but I hope to at least be reimbursed for all of the stuff I had to throw out. I never thought I would have to use the words "sexual secretions" and yet here I am, typing them into emails to the rental company, on a daily basis.
My relationship with my neighbours is fine, and I actually think they felt sorry for me more than anything else. But they still occasionally call me "brothel mama" when we meet by the mailbox. :/
*Kitti is most likely a cover name, but her photo has been blurred to protect her identity.
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When Strangers Run a Brothel in Your House, and Other Traumatising Airbnb Experiences