While “sex for rent” is not a new phenomenon, it appears to be on the rise. The scale of the issue was uncovered, in part, by a recent BBC Three Documentary, Rent for Sex, fronted by journalist Ellie Flynn, and there have been a spate of newspaper reports on Craigslist adverts that asked for “favours” in exchange for accommodation.
But it isn’t a practice that plays out solely in a seedy corner of the internet. An advert offering reduced rent in return for "special favours" recently appeared on the website of property giant Rightmove. The two-bedroom house, in Longbridge, Birmingham, was advertised as £23 a week for a female tenant, instead of £100.
Rosh Rashid, a 21-year-old student who is looking for a property to rent in the area, shared the property listing on Twitter, writing: "Available to 'female students'... available on a reduced rent for 'special favours to be discussed.' Wow."
Before long, criticism against Rightmove began to pour in, leading to the advert’s swift removal from their site. Rightmove also apologised for it having been posted in the first place.
"As soon as we became aware of this property listing we immediately removed it from Rightmove,” a spokesperson for the property company said. "We have spoken with the agent advertising the property who have confirmed that they’re carrying out a full investigation." According to Rightmove, any lettings business wishing to advertise on the website goes through a strict vetting process – but clearly not strict enough.
In the wake of the advert, local MP Jess Phillips said that Rightmove needed to tighten its regulations in order to ensure landlords weren’t so easily able to exploit female renters.
"Rightmove is a site I use myself and is well-respected by most people who would be horrified to think that it was being used like this,” she told The Telegraph. “It is a huge breach of trust."
Katharine Sacks-Jones, chief executive of Agenda, an alliance for women and girls at risk, also criticised Rightmove for hosting an advert so clearly targeting vulnerable women.
We must see a crackdown on the shameless use of such exploitative adverts
“Women at risk of taking up such ‘offers’ often already face very difficult circumstances. Many do not have a regular place to live,” she told The Pool. “They may be sleeping on the streets, in homeless hostels or other insecure accommodation, or they may be staying with violent partners because they have nowhere else to go.
“We must see a crackdown on the shameless use of such exploitative adverts. But we must also see investment in affordable housing and support for women facing homelessness, so they are not put in such vulnerable situations in the first place.”
As if the entire scenario couldn’t get more sleazy, the advert was marketed by StudentTenant.com – a lettings service for students, hosted by Rightmove. The website released a statement in response to the post, saying: "It has been brought to our attention that a property has been uploaded by a private landlord to our platform with the view to exploit students.
"This is something that we would categorically never condone, and we are deeply saddened to see this type of offering on our platform.
"We have measures in place to ensure that no contact details are ever passed to a landlord with our prior communication with both parties so students are protected before any property viewing goes ahead."
They added tenants' safety is their "top priority", and they are carrying out an internal review and have reported the ad to the relevant authorities.