An Airbnb guest is suing the home rental firm claiming it did not properly vet a host who sexually assaulted her.
The first-of-its-kind suit was filed by Leslie Lapayowker in San Francisco Superior Court on Thursday (27 July) alleging that the company "creates a false sense of security" for both guests and hosts.
The move raises fresh questions about the San Francisco-based tech firm's legal responsibilities, and again places the business under the microscope after recently facing questions about racial discrimination among its hosts.
Lapayowker is accusing Airbnb of negligence when it allowed her to rent a room from Carlos Del Olmo, who was previously accused of domestic violence.
Lapayowker moved to Los Angeles last summer looking for a new job as a mortgage broker and had planned to live in Del Olmo's Airbnb for a month, for a total of $2,541 (£1,943), while looking for a new home.
Del Olmo, who rented a studio attached to his house, was a considered a 'superhost' for Airbnb, meaning he had received high ratings from guests.
But, according to the suit, Del Olmo immediately made her uncomfortable by allegedly making sexually suggestive comments, and at another time allegedly pounding on her windshield.
Lapayowker decided to leave after three nights, and when she returned to get a laptop Del Olmo allegedly asked her to the studio to "show her something".
He then allegedly locked the door, dropped his shorts and began masturbating in front of her. He shoved his tongue into her mouth and eventually ejaculated into a dustbin, according to the lawsuit.
Later that month, she reported the incident to police and to Airbnb, which banned Del Olmo from the site. Authorities ultimately declined to file charges, because officials said there was not enough evidence, according to Lapayowker's lawyer.
But Lapayowker's lawyer discovered that Del Olmo had an earlier arrest in Florida for a battery charge and domestic violence case. A police report said that, according to the victim's account, he had pulled her hair and dragged her during an argument. He entered a diversion programme, which favours forms of rehabilitation rather than prosecution, the records showed.
"I was just furious," Lapayowker told the Guardian. "Why would they let somebody like this be a host?"
Del Olmo claimed the encounter with Lapayowker was "consensual". He said: "This woman just fully lied and made everything up." He added that was had not been convicted as a result of the Florida incident.
Airbnb's global head of trust and risk management Nick Shapiro said: "The abhorrent behaviour described has no place in our community and we will not tolerate it. We have been trying to support her in any way we can and we will continue to do so."
An Airbnb spokesperson said it runs background checks on all US hosts and guests, looking for matches with terrorist watch lists, felony convictions, sex offender registries and "significant misdemeanors".
Since the incident a year ago Lapayowker has dropped out of work and has "suffered emotional and psychological damages", said the suit.
Earlier this month an Airbnb host who made a racist comment to an Asian guest was fined $5,000 - and told she must attend a course on Asian-American studies.
Tami Barker cancelled Dyne Suh's booking, telling her in a message: "One word says it all. Asian."
The fine was imposed due to a new agreement between AirBnB and California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
It lets the DFEH examine hosts that have had discrimination complaints.