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Los Angeles Housing Rental Scams: Don’t Become a Victim

With home prices high in Los Angeles, renters are finding it challenging to find a good rental, the right rental and now, one that isn’t a simple scam.

Author: Tracy King
Date: Jan 25, 2015 - 8:01:39 AM


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The search for housing can be tedious and frustrating. In addition to the hundreds of available properties, one has to also be aware of fraudulent “landlords” whose sole purpose is to scam and steal. These “sellers” claim that they are unavailable to show the house and that they will mail the keys once they have received a deposit. However, once they receive the payment, they disappear and leave the prospective tenant empty handed.



There are many possibilities for various scams. For example, an owner with a foreclosed house may put up their property for rent and pretend that the house is in good standing. As soon as the tenant is all moved in, they will disappear with the money. Weeks or months later, the new houseguests are without a home and money when they find out that their new residency is foreclosed. Other frauds may break into a house and show it to potential renters as their own. Once the money exchange is complete, the fraud disappears without a trace.



A young woman, Sheila, recently reported to the Los Angeles Times that she was looking at a couple of homes in Atwater Village after seeing ads in Craigslist. The “owner” told her the rear door was open, that he couldn’t meet with her and that she should inspect the home. She liked what she saw and agreed to pay six months in advance for a lower rent plus a security deposit. She left a money order and her application at the house only to find later that the so-called “owner” didn’t own the home.



Chet, a young father of one, spoke to a homeowner who claimed to have two homes for sale in Altadena. The “owner” set up a “rent to own” contract with Chet whereby he could live in the home with his family, make high rental payments and end up owning the home. Nine months in, the “owner” had disappeared and the bank had foreclosed on the property, forcing Chet and his family out.



There are many proactive steps to be taken in order to stop these fraudulent acts. One of the most efficient tools to utilize is a website titled “CheckYourLandlord.com”. This website is inexpensive and full of detailed information regarding landlords, their history, and available properties. However, there are many “free” precautions that can be taken in order to avoid fraud.



The easiest way to avoid scams is to ask for identification. If someone refuses to flash their driver’s license or identification, their credibility is minimal. Some people worry about offending their seller, but this is a routine procedure in high-end business transactions.



Once the seller’s identification is cleared, it is necessary to ensure that they are the correct owner and that the property is not in foreclosure. This information can be found online on the county’s website. The assessor’s office or recorder of deeds will have the correct information on the owner and any “lis pendens” against the property.



The next step is to ensure that the owner is not stuck in any financial trouble. There are many facets to check. There may be unpaid dues filed by the homeowners association or a government jurisdiction from unpaid property taxes. If previous tenants filed any civil cases or criminal actions against the owner, this is evidence that the owner is not in reliable financial standing.



Finally, check to see if there is a lien against another property with the same owner. This could indicate that the owner is struggling financially and may be trying to con money. If this information is not found online, any county courthouse will have records of property listings and owners.



All of this work will not guarantee prevention in fraudulent sellers. However, it does increase the chance of stopping them before they steal your money. In the end it is better to spend time researching a business partner as opposed to handing over free money.




View all articles by Tracy King

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