“I’m giving a woman a spare room in exchange for a night’s sleep. Interested, leave physical and contact information. It is one of the ads that are heavily distributed on internet advertising platforms. It’s the renewed version, more subtle – although essentially the same – of those offering free housing in exchange for sexual relations, which emerged when the housing market was at its most overheated, back in 2007 and 2008. Not now they are so explicit, although they leave no doubt as to the subject matter of their offer. The term “company” is used in all advertisements that can be found on various digital portals. Still, anyone who exchanges some messages with advertisers understands that it’s not about companionship or nurturing, it’s about pure and rough sex in exchange for a room.
These types of ads have always existed, with more or less frequency and intensity, but they tend to multiply when the rental market gets too tough. It is now. Rents rose sharply again after the pandemic break. According to Fotocasa, rents in Spain rose by 4.7% in April. In the city of Madrid, for example, the average rent is 1,164 euros per month. This is the breeding ground for this advertising that spreads among people with greater economic needs who cannot afford to pay for a room: in the big capitals it costs between 300 and 700 euros per month. Undocumented migrant women are cannon fodder because of their special need for protection.
The first thing these advertisers ask for when this journalist contacts them (without revealing their true identity) is age and a photo. The person responsible for one of these ads requests a face-to-face meeting as a requirement to provide more details and discuss the terms of the exchange. He wants it to be the same day as the first communication and warns that he already has people waiting. He prefers to be face to face. “You know that things spoken like that seem cold and, without knowing each other, more. Then it’s different.” He sends a message meant to be reassuring: “Don’t worry, I’m legal and polite. I’m Spanish.” When asked if the room is free, he replies: “Of course it depends on you.”
Another of these ads reads: “Spanish man, 55 years old, divorced, I live alone, I give a girl a room for free and also offer 300 euros a month for her to take care of the house and have time to afford me Company”. In this case, the advertiser – who admits to being 60 years old and not 55 – requests a photo and asks for the age. He says his former assistant, a Venezuelan woman with significant economic difficulties, was paid around €500 a month to clean the house and maintain intimate relationships. “We can get to know each other and if we like each other, I could give you the same amount.”
The National Police have no record of complaints related to these announcements of swapping the roof for “society”. Because it is an agreement between two consenting adults, it would not be reportable and cannot be considered a crime. If this turns into threats, coercion or deception, which generally does not happen, it could be considered criminal activity.
Criminal defense attorneys talk about using common sense and distrusting any product or service that is too cheap or obviously not on the market. More so when so many clues are given, as in these cases. However, in very extreme situations, in situations of extreme need, one could speak of a crime of human trafficking (Article 177 bis of the Criminal Code). The advertiser should take advantage of a victim’s situation of superiority, neediness or vulnerability and welcome them in exchange for sexual exploitation, including pornography. The casuistry is very varied. For example, one could speak of committing this crime when war refugees are taken in for sex.
He knows all sides of the coin in detail.
The influx of these ads coincides with the prostitution legislation debate taking place in the House of Representatives this week. The coalition government is preparing two comprehensive laws to tackle pimping, human trafficking for sexual exploitation and prostitution.
From a civil point of view, it is logical that there is an oral agreement between the parties. “The written contracts that may exist in this matter will certainly include other services: cleaning, cooking or simple company, but never sex,” explains Josep Maria Güell of the Habitat Abogados office. The lawyer is aware that this is relatively common in other countries such as France.
In the consumer organization CECU, which has not received any complaints or complaints related to this type of advertising, they believe that “a collective and institutional effort should be made so that housing is an affordable good for all and no one is forced out of pure Desperation to accept such an agreement.” They warn: “Even if an agreement is reached and a contract is signed, the offer to occupy an apartment without paying rent is not a lease as such, but a precarious rent. It is therefore outside the provisions of building lease law and can be revoked at any time. If a woman agrees to such an agreement out of necessity, without knowing what she is agreeing to, or simply changes her mind, she can terminate the agreement at any time.
Portals such as Milanuncios, which do not mediate transactions between users, do not allow advertising related to contacts or the exchange of goods and services in exchange for sexual relations. For this reason, and to avoid the filters applied by platforms like this one, the term company is used. “We do not tolerate any behavior that threatens or violates human dignity,” they emphasize in Milanuncios. “If they are detected, we will delete them and, if necessary, suspend the user’s account,” they add.
Intimate relationships aren’t the only reward card. There are indications of all conditions. House cleaning and elderly care are the most common, but there are also those who request and offer yoga and language courses, services from a nutritionist, handyman, etc. Everything is allowed in the rental market, which stifles the most vulnerable.