Alavia Khawaja shares an apartment in Richardson, Texas, with her sister. For a little over a month now, she’s been renting out a spare bedroom on Airbnb, as many people do to help pay their own rent.
On October 11, a guest named Leonard Jackson arrived to stay at Alavia’s apartment. He had one positive review on Airbnb, Alavia told BuzzFeed News. Nothing seemed amiss, except one red flag — he wanted to make sure no other men would be in the home.
“He said, ‘I just can’t stay with guys is all,’” Alavia told BuzzFeed.
Despite the odd request, Leonard’s check-in went smoothly. But later that day, things quickly went south.
Alavia wrote about the experience in a series of tweets that have since gone viral.
While Alavia was out of the apartment, Leonard allegedly broke into her locked bedroom, ransacked her clothing, and destroyed any photos of male friends.
“He denied everything,” Alavia said. “I essentially kicked him out and he asked for a refund before leaving.”
She says she later found out that he also stole $500 from her room.
She contacted the Richardson Police Department, who took a report. And she contacted Airbnb, who told her to fill out a conflict resolution form.
But nothing happened to Leonard.
“Leonard starting texting me, texting me to come stay with him,” Alavia recalled. She says he asked her to be his wife and asked her if she had condoms.
After Alavia ignored the messages, Leonard reportedly contacted her on Airbnb and even requested to book the room again, which she denied.
Alavia once again tried contacting the police and Airbnb, but neither organization was helpful.
“Whatever answer [the cops] gave did not help me at all,” Alavia said. Instead, they simply told her not to worry and that they couldn’t do anything unless Leonard confessed to theft.
Airbnb similarly brushed her off.
“Essentially they just told me it wasn’t their department, and they’d call someone,” she said. “They were not helpful at all, instead they tried to point out that I didn’t fill in the form properly.”
So upon a friend’s suggestion, Alavia decided to take things into her own hands. She replied to Leonard’s texts, attempting to get him to confess to stealing her money so that she could bring the confession to the police.
Leonard immediately replied. She says he stated that he was coming back to her apartment.
“That alarmed me,” she said.
The police said they couldn’t do anything unless Leonard actually showed up at her apartment. If that happened, she should immediately call 911.
So Alavia had little choice but to sit and wait.
Not surprisingly, he did actually show up. And Alavia called the police right away as instructed.
“They arrested him for trespassing and caught him with THREE pistols on him,” she tweeted. He’d also been arrested just a few days prior for drug charges.
Despite all this, he was released from jail after 24 hours.
Once Leonard was out of jail, Alavia says he immediately began texting her and messaging her on Airbnb again, which is how she found out he’d been released.
“The police didn’t tell me, they were ‘too busy,'” Alavia tweeted.
She contacted Airbnb yet again, and the company finally took down Leonard’s profile.
“They should have done that two weeks ago when I first said something,” she told BuzzFeed reporters.
“This is trash service. I could’ve been murdered,” she tweeted. “This is a warning to everyone who uses Airbnb.”
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, an Airbnb spokesperson agreed that the company’s response was far too slow.
“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,” spokesperson Ben Breit said. “Our initial response to this incident was simply too slow and we are working to fully support our host. There have been over 400 million guest arrivals to date and negative incidents are extremely rare.”
Nonetheless, the lack of response from both Airbnb and the local police have Alavia feeling less than reassured. Leonard is still a free man, and he still knows where she lives.
“I am definitely worried. I feel that I shook him hard enough that he won’t come, but I also don’t think he’s in his sound mind,” Alavia said. “What if he showed up to my place again?”
Since tweeting about the harrowing experience, she’s heard from other women who have been through similar things on Airbnb.
“I just want them to do better and not let this happen to anyone else,” she said.