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Miami Renters Beware. Please!

Not ButterWe Realtors are known for working all odd hours and weekends. I’ve been attempting to take Sundays off whenever possible. When duty calls, I go though. Today duty called and it was a most unsavory type.

I received a call from a real estate agent who had tried to show one of the REO (bank owned) properties I have listed. He had a problem when he arrived at the property though. Apparently it was no longer vacant, but occupied. I assured him that the home was vacant and on lockbox. He assured me that it was not.

As much as I didn’t relish a confrontation with tenants who had been scammed, I headed out to the property to see what was going on. When I arrived I saw two tell-tale signs that the agent was perhaps correct: one, there was a car parked in the driveway; and two, my lockbox was no longer on the door. Crud. I wasn’t looking forward to what I had to do.

I walked to the front door and knocked. I hoped against hope that maybe the car was just a neighbor who was having company and needed the extra parking. Yeah, but that didn’t explain the missing lockbox. As I thought about this a lady opened the door. Double crud.

I introduced myself and she explained that there had been a couple of other realtors who had come by. I wondered why only one had bothered to call me?

She called her husband out and I explained to them both that the property was bank-owned and whomever had rented the property to them, had done so illegally. They provided their copy of the lease and my heart broke for them as I looked around the home and saw how homey everything was looking. In the 5 days since they had moved in, they had certainly put their touch on the place.

I stayed long enough to get details about dates, amounts, supposed name of landlord, etc. I explained that they were going to have to move and they needed to start thinking about that. I’ve sent an email to the bank already but until I speak with them tomorrow, I don’t know exactly how they want me to deal with the situation. I’m guessing they’ll be asked to leave amicably and if they refuse, we will have to contact the police.

What choices do they have? I think the only thing they can do at this point is file a report at the police against this despicable person who would do this to them. How can a person who doesn’t own a place rent it out? It takes all kinds. I am guessing this is not the first time he’s done this and it won’t be the last. But maybe because it’s only been a few days since he pulled this stunt, his trail will still be warm enough for the police to catch him.

This poor family is out almost $3,000. The utilities have been turned on in their name. All their stuff is in the house. But they have no right to be there. The lease they signed was not a valid one. They negotiated this deal with a scam artist. I almost didn’t want to write this post so I wouldn’t give ideas to shady characters who are just looking for the next way to scam their next paycheck. But I think it’s best if the public is aware of the fact that things like this are happening.

If you’re a tenant, how can you protect yourself? If you’re dealing with a real estate agent, chances are really good that the deal is on the up and up. Make sure you have their business card. Call their office and make sure it exists and the agent works there. Click here to make sure that the person is licensed.

But what you really need to do is check the property records online and make sure that the person signing the lease is truly the owner of the property. Ask for their driver’s license and make sure that it matches the online property record. Ask for an address where you can mail the rental checks. A legitimate landlord won’t give you a hard time about giving you a mailing address. But keep in mind that a good con person can make up a mailing address so while this is good to ask for, the item that must be accurate is that their driver’s license match the online property owner’s name.

If a landlord makes it very, very easy for you to get into a home, that could be a tip off that something’s amiss. If he doesn’t run a credit check, allows you in the house immediately, and he’s asking you to pay for your first and last month’s rent in cash (won’t take a bank certified check or money order), these could be signs that he’s a scammer. That’s what this scammer did to these people. And I’m pretty sure that they won’t see a penny of the money he stole from them even if he is caught.

Please, please, please be careful when renting out there. Make sure you know who you are renting from. Don’t fall prey to these scam artists!

  1. Sarah Cooper

    This is insane! When I was a renter, I was the one who got checked out. I never once thought I’d have to check out the people I rented from. The world has changed. Maggie, you were right to post this. I hope you save someone else the heartache.

  2. Lisa Sanderson

    This is another unfortunate side effect of the mortgage/foreclosure mess in some areas. I had a call a little while ago from a tenant who found out the house they’ve been renting for the past 3 months is in foreclosure…the sheriff came and posted a notice on the house. The owner is nowhere to be found. So, even if the one renting the house out is the true owner, one STILL needs to be wary. Unfortunately, there is not an easy way to check to see if an owner’s mortgage is paid up to date, as delinquencies aren’t recorded until the foreclosure actually happens.

  3. maggiedokic

    Sarah, too true. What’s worse is that the lady is pregnant. I hope they get this scoundrel and throw him in jail. I’m still a bit in shock about the whole thing.

  4. maggiedokic

    Lisa, you’re absolutely right. That’s a totally different scam where the actual owner figures he can get some rental income before they take the house from him. Lis Pendens (the first legal step in a foreclosure) are easily found online here so a pending foreclosure should not be that difficult to discover. It’s a shame that tenants have to add this to the list of things they have to look out for though. Big shame.

  5. Cindy Jones-Associate Broker/REMAX Allegia

    It isn’t bad enough the legitimate tenants are finding themselves out on the street when the home they are living in is lost to foreclosure, now we have another set of unfortunate tenants who have been scammed. This gets lower than low.

  6. Mike Benmeleh

    Maggie,

    I want to let you know that this just happened to one of my rental listings in South Beach… exact same scenario.. and this “realtor-scam artist” got 4 different tenants to give him security deposit and he gave them keys to the apartment… when at the end, no lease had gone through me nor was I aware of this… CRAZY!! The guy who did this calls himself “christian or chris” and he is french.. any idea what the guy who did this in your apartment’s name was??

    THIS IS UNBELIEVEABLE AND HOPEFULLY THIS GUY WILL GET CAUGHT!!

  7. Thesa Chambers

    Maggie – I am going to link back to this – we have not seen this happen yet – but we have had folks rent out the home – while they do not make the mortgage payments – then the bank comes knocking to find that the person living there has no idea they have been paying rent – that never went to the mortgage – leaving them with no where to go on short notice.

  8. Do You Know Where Your Rent Is Going? | Central Oregon Real Estate

    […] received a call from another agent stating the property was occupied – it should not have been.  Read the rest of what happened. I received a call from a real estate agent who had tried to show one of the REO (bank owned) […]

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