12 January 2020

Airbnbs, Gangs and Pimps.

My hometown of Ottawa is the capital of Canada. Most of us who live here consider it a small, friendly town disguised as a large city.

On January 8th, Ottawa had our first murder of the year. Four young people (ages 20, 19, 18 and 15) were shot inside a home and the 18 year old was killed.

On November 2019, the Ottawa City Council ‘endorsed new rules that will restrict short-term rentals on Airbnb and other similar platforms to primary residences in a bid to crack down on so-called “ghost hotels” run by absentee owners.’

These two things are related. The young men were shot in a ‘ghost’ Airbnb.

These Airbnb ‘ghost hotels’ are “…becoming havens for criminal activity.
Unlike traditional hotels that come with security video cameras, high traffic and paid security guards on the premises, ghost hotels are often cheaper to book and come with less eyes on what’s happening inside, police say. City police are finding that in instances where violence breaks out, the person booking the rental is rarely at the home and there is a degree of anonymity in the booking. Adding to the situation is that homes are often owned by people who don’t live in the neighbourhood, or are rented by property managers. Police say they find there is little allegiance to the communities in which they are situated. It’s a “perfect scenario,” says one officer.”

When I interviewed a Crown Prosecutor for an article, he had informed me that gangs in Ottawa are mobile and change locations often weekly to avoid detection. These ghost hotels are a perfect opportunity for gangs to move every few weeks with little or no scrutiny.

I only rented an Airbnb once. My family was going to an award dinner in Toronto and I was looking for a hotel near the venue. My children argued that we should get an Airbnb. My daughter is a vegan and wanted access to a kitchen. I said I wouldn’t cook. She said I wouldn’t have to but she wanted to at least have access to the means to cook and a place to put her vegan supplies, like oat milk. This went on for a bit and I gave in, which you would only understand if you’ve had the pleasure of arguing with my children.

My daughter carefully examined reviews of Airbnbs and found one that was close to the venue and had excellent reviews. When we pulled up to the place, it was a condo building in a shady area of town. Not deterred, we went in. I found I couldn’t breathe. This makes staying at a place difficult. My asthma only gets this bad when there is mold, so I went outside with my husband to get some fresh air.

The fresh air and a puffer somewhat resolved my breathing problem but presented a new one. Pulling up to the condo were a string a large cars decanting rough looking men, wearing street clothing and women in what looked like scanty clubwear.

Since I couldn’t breathe in the apartment, and I didn’t feel safe outside of the apartment, my husband booked a hotel.

I often wondered about that odd Airbnb experience, but writing this article clarified a few things: “Investigators have noticed an uptick in pimps using Airbnb rentals in recent years. That’s likely because they’re more anonymous, and it’s more challenging for police to get information about them, compared to traditional hotels and motels, said Det.-Sgt. Nunzio Tramontozzi.”

This makes sense of our unusual experience. If I wasn’t so breathless, I might have realized that the rough looking men might have been pimps. They certainly were frightening.

So, back to Airbnbs. They are a boon for many people - both the guests and those who rent them out. My children have had wonderful experiences in Europe, the United States and Australia. It is the modern version of the student hostels that were popular when I was traveling on the cheap in other countries.

It is unfortunate that Airbnbs are being used by gangs and pimps. I hope that limits on 'ghost' Airbnbs, similar to ones Ottawa is using will curbs this. 


  1. A problem for sure but another gift to mystery writers.

  2. Janice is right. Another gift for mystery writers. I've never used one, but I rarely travel. Excellent article. Nunzio Tramontozzi - what a great sounding name.

  3. Janice - True. It's a book or a series that begs to be written.
    O'Neil - Thank you. I'll never use one again. Give me a hotel with a nice bar that serves food!

  4. Mary, interesting situation. Thanks.
    Our city is having other problems with airbnb's, but don't know if the cops have yet looked into their use by gangs, pimps, etc.

  5. A great read, Mary! All this sounds so un-Canadian. Gangs AND mold? I personally go for hotels/motels overAirbnbs because, just as you said, there's too much that's unregulated and sketchy.

  6. Mary, I'm with you. The LAST thing I want to do on a vacation is cook. (although I admit a story is cooking at the moment...) I'll meet you in the bar - smile.

  7. Well, it was inevitable. Old-fashioned flophouses, crash pads, hourly motels have been transformed into ghost Air BnBs. Something had to take their place. But an excellent reason to stick with real motels.

  8. RT Lawson -Thank you. Interesting. This seems well know in Ottawa. Maybe it's just in Canada. We are infested with crime. LOL
    Lawrence - Thank you. The NYT just wrote that we are a 'sprawling, bone-chilling country" They forgot the gangs and the mold.
    Melodie - I would love to meet you in a bar. LOL!
    Eve - Agree. Airbnbs do fill those old options. My one stay will be my last.

  9. I had no idea. I"ve stayed a couple of times in gorgeous regular B&Bs, once in Napa Valley and once in NYC. I haven't tried either couch surfing (a super-inexpensive alternative) or AirB&B… or in your case, AirlessB&B.

    Janet nailed it… Hmm… Thanks, Mary.


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