Alavia Khawaja‘s horror story started on Oct. 11.
The spare bedroom in the apartment she shared with her sister was empty, so she decided to list it on Airbnb. The online service allows people to rent out rooms, houses, or apartments to interested guests. The host makes the rules, sets the price, and pays a 3 percent commission to the company.
Khawaja’s first several months with Airbnb were fine. She got requests, approved guests, and occasionally had a new overnight roommate in her Richardson, Texas, apartment. But when Leonard Jackson requested the room, things took a turn.
I confronted him and he denied everything. I kicked him out and he had the audacity to tell me to refund him. I found out an hour later that he stole cash (around $500) and immediately contacted Airbnb— Alavia Khawaja (@EmpressAloeVera) October 27, 2018
In an interview, Khawaja told BuzzFeed News that Jackson had a positive review on his profile. There was one strange thing, however. He wanted to ensure that there would be no other men in the apartment. The comment may have caused her pause, but Khawaja soldiered on and booked Jackson.
Khawaja wrote about her experiences on Twitter. “I had a guest checking in; everything was normal—I come home to this man cleaning up my apartment,” she said. She returned home with a male friend to find that not only had Jackson cleaned her home without need or invitation, but he had forcefully entered her locked bedroom.
It was her friend, who entered the apartment before Khawaja, who saw Jackson leaving her room. Her closet had been plundered, and all her photos of male friends were in the garbage. Understandably upset, Khawaja confronted Jackson, but he denied any wrongdoing. She kicked him out, but not before he had the gall to ask for a refund.
Then he started texting me. I ignored him. So he went on to message me on Airbnb pic.twitter.com/qU3djwylZ3— Alavia Khawaja (@EmpressAloeVera) October 27, 2018
That should have been the end of a very strange guest experience, but not long after she realized cash was missing from her bedroom. Around $500. She called the police, who had a tough time locating his “clean record,” she said on Twitter. BuzzFeed reports that Sgt. Kevin Perlich of the Richardson Police Department said a report was filed that day. Khawaja also reached out to Airbnb, but was told to fill out a “conflict resolution form,” according to BuzzFeed, and was sent on her way.
Then Jackson started texting, and when Khawaja didn’t respond, he changed tactics. He began contacting her through Airbnb, requesting that she come to stay with him. When she didn’t respond, he requested to again stay in her spare room, which she denied.
Another call to Airbnb was brushed off, and when Khawaja reached out to law enforcement a detective updated her that Jackson “had been recently arrested for harming a child, but again, they couldn’t do anything unless he admitted to stealing from me.”
Khawaja changed tactics. She texted Jackson back, hoping to wring a confession from him.
The PD and Airbnb did nothing to help me so I decided to text him back, and he immediately responded pic.twitter.com/LP4WX3sepZ— Alavia Khawaja (@EmpressAloeVera) October 27, 2018
Jackson refused to admit to what he had done, but when he told Khawaja that he was on his way over she got nervous. She called the police and again was told that law enforcement couldn’t do anything. She was told her to call again if he actually showed up.
Too concerned to wait in her apartment, Khawaja parked her car where she could see her door. Texts from Jackson continued. “He was still texting me. ‘I better not have any guys there’,” she explained on Twitter. “Bathroom better be clean, I need condoms.”
I parked my car across the complex where I could keep an eye on my door. He was still texting me. “ I better not have any guys there” “bathroom better be clean” “I need condoms”— Alavia Khawaja (@EmpressAloeVera) October 27, 2018
Khawaja wasted no time calling the police when Jackson arrived. This time they showed up and arrested Jackson for trespassing. They found three pistols on him. Despite assurances that he would remain in jail for some time, Khawaja found out he was released 24 hours later.
Four phone calls from jail preceded another Airbnb message, which was how Khawaja found out Jackson had been released. Officers were “too busy” to inform Khawaja that the armed man who knew where she lived was back on the streets.
He tried calling me four times from jail. Then he messaged me on Airbnb and that’s how I found out that he was out. The police didn’t tell me, they were “too busy”— Alavia Khawaja (@EmpressAloeVera) October 27, 2018
Airbnb took two weeks to delete Jackson’s profile, potentially putting other hosts like Khawaja at risk. “This is trash service,” Khawaja wrote. “I could’ve been murdered. This is a warning to everyone who uses Airbnb.”
BuzzFeed spoke with Airbnb spokesperson Ben Breit, who said the company acknowledges that its response was too slow, but that incidents like this are extremely rare for Airbnb.
If my friend had not been with me during the first confrontation, who knows what would have happened to me pic.twitter.com/Y4Y4K2dfHM— Alavia Khawaja (@EmpressAloeVera) October 27, 2018
Khawaja wrote on Twitter that she is in the process of pursuing a restraining order against Jackson, but another warrant for his arrest will hopefully get him off the streets soon. “Police told me tracing credit cards are inefficient and I should wait for him to get stopped for traffic violation,” she wrote.
I’m in the process of a restraining order but there’s another warrant for his arrest. Police told me tracing credit cards are inefficient and I should wait for him to get stopped for traffic violation 🌝🌝🌝— Empress (@EmpressAloeVera) October 28, 2018
As of the writing of this article, Jackson still hasn’t been arrested. Khawaja shared his Airbnb photo to Twitter, in hopes of warning Dallas-area women.
Yeah, it’s Dallas area :/ I don’t have his mugshot but I have his Airbnb photo, thanks girl pic.twitter.com/V5r7atkDh9— Alavia Khawaja (@EmpressAloeVera) October 28, 2018
Khawaja’s nightmare is over, hopefully, but she still feels the entire situation could have—and should have—been handled better by police and Airbnb. Since posting her story to Twitter, she has heard a number of similar stories from women across the country. She has also had a number of men accuse her of somehow encouraging Jackson in her attempts to get a confession. Because, you know, victim-blaming.
“Women don’t come forward because they feel guilty as well,” @RomanTheOracle wrote to Khajawa. “Most times is bc they know they either played a part in it and don’t want to get in trouble or bc they know they could have done things differently to maybe prevent said incident from happening.”
Though there were plenty more people questioning Khawaja’s “involvement” in her own harassment, as well as those who felt her story wasn’t entirely true, she has seen an outpouring of support and empathy online from many others.
“All I want is for Airbnb to do better,” Khawaja said. Until then, she said on Twitter that she and her sister are looking for somewhere else to stay.
Update 11:30am CT, Nov. 2: Khawaja says that she and her sister have added a third roommate and that they’re still upset with Airbnb, writing via Twitter DM that “[t]he police don’t tell me anything, unfortunately…it’s always been me calling them. Airbnb just told me they would look into the case, but they sent me $500 to change my locks…which it doesn’t cost $500 to change locks..but thats the amount I filed in the resolution center, so my sister and I both agree that it’s more like hush money…”
H/T BuzzFeed News