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Airbnb guest files lawsuit after alleged sexual assault by host

The woman says Airbnb didn't thoroughly screen a Los Angeles host accused of attacking her. Airbnb says it conducts rigorous background checks.

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Airbnb is named in a sexual assault lawsuit. 

Carl Court, Getty Images

An Airbnb guest is suing the home-rental company for failing to conduct a thorough screening of a host she says attacked her during a stay at his property.  

Leslie Lapayowker alleges she was sexually assaulted by Carlos Del Olmo when she stayed at the studio apartment attached to his Los Angeles home in July 2016, according to a lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court. In the suit, Lapayowker says Del Olmo made inappropriate comments, was taking drugs and demanded that she engage in sexual activity with him. He also grabbed Lapayowker, kissed her and exposed himself, according to the suit.

The lawsuit says Airbnb neglected its responsibility to screen Del Olmo closely, which may have prevented the assault. Del Olmo, who had been given Airbnb's "superhost" status, was arrested in 2013 for domestic violence but avoided prosecution by taking anger management classes, according to the lawsuit. 

Airbnb says it conducts background checks and cleared Del Olmo because he hadn't been convicted of a crime in the 2013 incident. The company runs background checks on all hosts and guests, and pays special attention to terrorist watch lists, felony convictions, sex offender registries and "significant misdemeanors." The policy is noted on their website

Del Olmo couldn't be reached for comment. Teresa Li, Lapayowker's attorney, didn't return calls seeking comment.

This isn't the first time Airbnb has had problems with its hosts. Earlier this month, an Airbnb host agreed to pay $5,000 after turning away a guest because she was Asian American. The host was also required by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing to take a college-level course in Asian-American studies. 

The suit file Thursday appears to be the first time Airbnb has been involved in a sexual assault case and raises questions about what the company's legal responsibilities are in vetting hosts and guests.

Lapayowker pressed charges against Del Olmo after the incident in 2016. Law enforcement officials determined there wasn't enough evidence to move forward. 

The allegations, however, prompted Aibnb to ban Del Olmo from its site. 

"The abhorrent behavior described has no place in our community and we will not tolerate it," Nick Shapiro, Airbnb's global head of trust and risk management, said in a statement on Friday. "We have been trying to support [Lapayowker] in any way we can."

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