Wed, Apr 09, 2014 - Page 4 News List

Police uncover daily rental racket

By Chiu Chun-fu and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Taipei police, while inspecting homes that were registered as empty, recently found illegal hostel owners renting out rooms on a daily basis to be used by prostitutes in the city’s Xinyi District (信義).

According to the Daan District (大安) police precinct, the owners of what was known as the “Mango Hostel” had been found renting out an apartment, walled up and separated into two rooms, on the 12th floor of an apartment building.

Police said the hostel recruited most of its guests, predominantly Chinese or foreign backpackers, through the China-based online shopping Web site Taobao.

Due to intense competition in the short-term rental market, the alleged owners of the illegal rental property, Lee Po-ting (李柏廷) and three accomplices, allegedly approached a prostitution ring and entered into an agreement to rent out the rooms by the night, police said.

Police said they marked the building for surveillance when officers “instinctively felt something fishy was going on” after observing a man and woman going into the building and leaving together a short while later, adding that the woman was wearing heavy make-up and the man looked horny.

After obtaining a warrant last month, police raided the property and caught one of the alleged call-girls, surnamed Chuang (莊), and an alleged client, surnamed Chen (陳), right after they had finished their tryst, police said. They added that they also found the money allegedly paid for sex — NT$3,000 (US$98) — as well as condoms, lubricants and other items usually associated with prostitution.

The 29-year-old Chuang was quoted by police as saying that she was entitled to NT$2,000 of the total amount and she would leave the rest of the money in the refrigerator, from where it would later be collected by the prostitution ring.

The police charged Lee and his alleged accomplices with violations of public decency and the Statute for the Development of Tourism (發展觀光條例) for illegally operating an unsanctioned hostel. If the charge stands, Lee and his accomplices can be fined between NT$90,000 and NT$450,000.

Meanwhile, police said that in the past, owners of daily rental units were usually unaware of illegal activities being conducted in their properties.

Daily rentals have become increasingly popular among backpackers or traveling students due to their cheaper rates, police said.

However, they added that renting out rooms on a daily basis posed some risks, as some guests may use the properties for drug parties or drug-exchange locations.

Motels and hotels require identification from guests that is to be faxed to the police precinct in the area to be scanned for any suspects on the wanted list, police said, adding that daily rental units, which are usually in apartment buildings, are harder to keep an eye on.

Potential renters only had to deposit the rental amount in the owner’s bank account, police said, adding that these transactions present another blind spot in overall security.

Police said they are in the process of drawing up a solution to deal with potential security risks.

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