It sounds like a dream scenario: the opportunity to live rent free in beautiful homes and apartments across the country.
However, the numerous online ads offering women – and the occasional man – a place to stay, rent-free, are acting on much more sinister motives than that of charity or kindheartedness.
“I have a nice room available in London for a girl who enjoys being a dirty little slut,” proclaims one advert.
“Offering a room in my house and free use of shared facilities for woman housemate willing to carry out household chores naked or in sexy lingerie,” states another.
These are just two examples of the alarming “sex for rent” epidemic that is currently sweeping the UK, in which landlords are preying on vulnerable young women who can’t afford housing by offering them a free place to stay – in exchange for sex.
The shocking extent of the epidemic was uncovered last week by 29-year-old journalist Vonny Moyes, who began sharing the adverts she found on various flatshare and rental websites on Twitter.
“I had heard anecdotally about dodgy landlords propositioning friends over the years,” she told Stylist.co.uk.
“I decided to do some digging to get a handle on the scale of the problem. I was utterly horrified to find the adverts on every room/flat sharing page I looked at across the country.”
The ads are explicit in wanting sex, or sexual favours, in exchange for boarding, with one reading “I am looking for a girl to live in purely for fucking and housekeeping/pa duties” and another stating, “free flatshare for female open to arrangements”.
Most ads ask “applicants” to send in a photo, while others state physical requirements of prospective renters, with one reading, “You will be attractive, slim and willing to offer more intimate favours too”.
Having read the adverts, Moyes began texting the landlords, posing as a prospective renter.
“Many knew that what they were doing would be considered objectionable, but were quick to point out it was legal,” she told Stylist.co.uk.
“Others thought absolutely nothing of asking for sex. Though, despite their protestations about it being an equal exchange, all demanded pictures of me, wouldn't give me their picture, and insisted on sex two to three times a week.”
Moyes believes the ads she’s seen online are only “scratching the surface” of the problem, adding that “so many women got in touch to share their stories of landlords abusing their position of power”.
However, with property prices and the cost of rent continuously on the rise, more and more people are struggling to afford their homes. Figures show that the number of people sleeping rough in England has continued to grow every year since 2010, while every day some 150 families in Britain become homeless.
“Our chronic shortage of affordable homes is leaving too many people with little choice over who they rent from, which is sadly making it much easier for a minority of rogues and sexual predators to prey on those most desperate for a place to stay,” Anne Baxendale, Director of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter, told Stylist.co.uk.
“Sadly we’re not at all surprised such horror stories exist of rooms being offered up in exchange for sex. These kind of adverts expose a dangerous attempt to establish deeply exploitative relationships off the back of sky-high housing costs or worse homelessness.
“The depth of our housing crisis doesn’t make ‘rent for sex’ inevitable, but it is driving people to extremes. That’s why we’re calling on the next government to turn this situation around by building homes that people on lower incomes can actually afford to live in.”
On Friday, Nicola Sturgeon said she was “horrified” to learn of the issue, but added that the arrangements are likely to be “informal”, meaning they can easily slip through the net.
So what can be done?
“We need to make it clear that these adverts are most attractive to vulnerable women, and that no woman should have to enter a situation where she's coerced into sex over the threat of homelessness,” Moyes said.
“We need our elected leaders to investigate, act and unequivocally state that no landlord should seek to exploit a tenant for his own sexual gain.”