SAN FRANCISCO – In Atlanta, an online ad offers a room in exchange for “sex and light office duty.” In Los Angeles, a one-bedroom pool house is free “to a girl that is skilled and willing.” And in New York City, a $700-a-month room is available at a discount to a fit female willing to provide sex.
On the widely used Web site Craigslist.org, some landlords and apartment dwellers looking for roommates are offering to accept sex in lieu of rent.
“They have to be attractive. I don’t let just anybody come into my house,” said Mike, a man who answered the phone at the New York City listing but declined to give his last name -and refused to say whether he has, in fact, collected the rent under the sheets.
The offering of shelter for sex is older than, well, real estate itself.
But the online come-ons are franker than anything you might see in the newspaper classifieds, because they are not edited by Craigslist, and perhaps also because the anonymity of the Internet often causes people to shed their inhibitions.
Trading housing for sex is a form of prostitution. But the police aren’t kicking down doors.
Paul J. Browne, a deputy police commissioner in New York, said investigators have found that the Craigslist ads are frequently “little more than a form of voyeurism that didn’t result in an actual exchange of sex for rent.”
Craigslist provides mostly free classifieds for apartments, used cars and just about everything else in more than 200 cities in 35 countries.
“I usually rent the room for 600, but if you are really ticklish and willing to trade being tickled for the extra rent then we have a deal,” writes a gay man offering a $350-a-month room in the San Francisco Bay area.
An ad for a townhouse near Bradenton, Fla., seeks a “female that likes to be nude. Nothing more expected.”
It is unclear how much success people have had with their rent-for-sex ads.
One man said he became friends with a bisexual man who answered his ad but did not end up taking the room. The same user said a man visiting from Russia answered his ad and they shared dinner and a bottle of wine, but that was it.
“This is only a silly sideline adventure of mine,” the man, who would not give his name, wrote in an e-mail. “I feel a little embarrassed about it.”
The Associated Press e-mailed more than two-dozen other people who placed ads, but most declined to be interviewed.
Jim Buckmaster, chief executive of San Francisco-based Craigslist, said the company forbids ads that break the law, but his staff of 19 could not possibly police all postings. Craigslist instead relies on users to flag ads they find offensive. If enough people agree, the ad is removed.
“Tens of millions of users are a much more powerful force in examining the more than 8 million classified ads per month than any staff could be,” Buckmaster said.
Mike, who offered the room in New York, said his ads are frequently flagged and removed, resulting in a cat-and-mouse game in which he puts them back up.
Tenants rights groups have accused Craigslist of skirting fair housing requirements. In February, a group called the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sued the Web site for publishing housing ads that excluded people based on their race, religion and sex.
But legal experts say Craigslist is shielded by a 1996 federal law that protects online service providers that merely pass along unedited information provided by someone else.
And in most states, prostitution laws apply only if the ads are followed by e-mails, phone conversations or other acts that advance the proposition.
“The mere posting itself is absolutely not illegal,” said Anthony Lowenstein, a defense lawyer in San Francisco, “unless the guy who posts it or the person who answers it does something that makes it a little closer to happening.”