[ Annie's street in Chicago -- her house is across the street from Ogden Park (on the left). ]
Airbnb is consulting its legal team and has reached out to Chicago host Antionette "Annie" Wonsey after she received a citation Aug. 17 for operating a business without a license.
Annie tells LAUNCH that Airbnb said it will get back to her with information on how to prepare for her Sept. 22 court date. We have repeatedly asked Airbnb to comment on Annie's experience but have not received a response.
Chicago police officers cited Annie for "operating a hotel from her residence" without a business license at a rate of $130 a night. In fact, Annie rents just three rooms (hotels in Chicago are defined as seven or more) and Annie's most expensive listing on Airbnb is only $29 a night.
Annie, however, does not seem terribly concerned about the citation.
"I'm feeling fine. I don't need a business license to sublet my home," Annie tells LAUNCH. "I can do whatever I want." [ She may not be right about that - see our story ].
The Aug. 17 event that Annie taped and posted to YouTube [ see story ] started when police sighted three of Annie's guests, from Malaysia, in her Englewood neighborhood. The cops picked up the guests, took them to Annie's home and knocked on the door, which is when Annie hit "record" on her digital camera.
LAUNCH has contacted the Chicago Police Department about the incident and sent them the link to Annie's video but has not received a response.
This was not the first time Chicago police picked up Annie's guests allegedly to protect them from the neighborhood's criminals -- or the first time the police had confronted Annie about her hosting tourists [ see our story on Englewood's crime rate ].
A few days prior to the Aug. 17 incident, a Frenchman named Jebril, who had recently arrived at Annie's, walked down the street to get a burger.
Before Jebril could get to the restaurant, Annie says, Chicago police stopped him as he opened his bag to take out his iPod. They took him -- in a squad car -- to get the burger and then drove him back to Annie's house.
When they arrived, according to Annie, the cop told her they needed to have a private conversation. Annie says the cop, who she refers to as Mr. Starsky, told her, "You are endangering the lives of these people," but he but did not mention her needing a business license.
At the end of Jebril's stay, Annie asked Jebril what he thought of the neighborhood and how he felt when he arrived. Here is Jebril's account of what happened, which confirms what Annie tells LAUNCH.
"Annie is awesome," Jebril says in the video. "Car service directly with police cops. Thank you for the cop of Ashland to bring me to the home of Annie."
Jebril further describes how the police officer asked him where he was from. After Jebril told him he was from Paris, the officer informed him that he was in a dangerous neighborhood. Jebril calls the cop "friendly."
Prior to Jebril's experience, her guests told her that it's common practice for police to question them about why there are white Airbnb guests in the neighborhood. Annie has only had a few African-American guests, but says they have never been harassed, or rather, the police have not attempted to protect them.
"What they try to do is when they see you on the street, they pull you over and ask what you're doing in the 'hood," Annie says. "They tell them 'I'm renting out a place through Airbnb' so what they'll do is try to get them into the car and try to [take] them to the house so they can find out where they're coming from."
Annie jokes that she has considered adding to her Airbnb profile, "Protection for white people."
Joking aside, her ad explicitly states, "If you are looking for a posh, well-to-do area, DO NOT BOOK HERE!" It further reads, "This is an inner city community that has undergone nice redevelopment due to the brand new college recently built (but has some work to be done)."
Annie says that all of her guests "know well in advance the type of area and are either here because they live in worse areas or travel to worse areas." Annie says that she has even turned down requests from potential guests who were under the impression they would be staying in a "nice" area.
"I don't want nobody angry coming to my house," Annie says. "If you're not comfortable, please go away."
In contrast to the police, most of Annie's neighbors have welcomed her Airbnb guests, Annie says.
"They love it," Annie says. "The neighbors, when they see white folks coming, they say they're going the right way." Annie says.
Annie, an avid traveler herself, joined Airbnb in June to connect with people from all over the world.
"When this Airbnb started, it almost gave me a way to travel without leaving my house," Annie says. "I was doing it for the stories. The cash is a little extra bonus."
Annie is unemployed, but she worked previously as a project assistant at the University of Chicago. Currently, she earns some income by using barter companies like Northwest Barter Brokers, where she also offers temporary housing.
She admits, "I can't say I live the normal life."
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