“Ask Kari” is a monthly, Question & Answer feature by Kari Negri. Kari has two decades of property management experience, is a featured speaker at many industry trade shows, such as AAGLA’s annual trade show, and is the CEO of SKY Properties, Inc. in Los Angeles. Please submit your question today: kari@GetSky.net
A few weeks ago I was watching the news and saw a freaked out home owner, followed by a news crew, who proceeded to knock on the door of a home she owned. The door was answered by a woman who was caught off guard completely (still in her PJ’s). As soon as the door was
open, the owner shouted “Who are you and what are you doing in my home?” to which the woman replied, “I rent this house, I have a lease let me get it.”
While the woman was inside getting her lease the owner told the news crew that she had personally not been to the house in about 2 months but that she had a property management company, Bear Beware. Before going to the home that morning she had called Bear Beware and asked why they had not forwarded the Lease and Funds as
the home was clearly occupied when she drove by the day before. Bear Beware was shocked and said that the home had not had much traffic and so they had not been there in weeks but it was not rented.
The woman came back to the front door and produced a 1 year lease with her name on it and a copy of a cashier’s
check. In her mind everything was legal and on the up and up. The owner was very upset and noted that the name Joe Blow was not her name and she was the proper owner of the house and that the woman needed to get out right now. It was a horrible and embarrassing scene. Both the Landlord and the Tenant were victims.
This type of scam is becoming extremely common, but statistics are not accurate because victims are often too embarrassed to report it. In this case the criminal who rented out the house simply cut off the lock box and changed the front door keys. Then all they had to do was
collect the money and produce a lease which they printed on line.
These scammers target single family homes and small building owners without on-site managers that often utilize lockboxes for showings. The scammers find legitimate ads on Craigslist or other free sites such as Trulia, Zillow and Hotpads and copy ad wording and pictures, but change the contact information to their own. The only way to tell that these are phony ads is they are normally too good to be true. For example, the landlord’s ad might list the unit at $1700.00, and the scammers will list it for $1100.00. They will also attach links to fake credit check sites and ask that holding deposits be wired. A legitimate management company or owner usually would not ask to have money wired (especially to a Western Union account). Most legitimate management companies post their signage in front of rentals; if the information in the ad does not match, that is another red flag.
Management companies have reported receiving calls from people demanding keys for units they have “leased”. The management companies quickly point out that they are mistaken, these “renters” then show leases with unknown names and proof of deposit and rent payments made out to unknown parties (the scammers). A good owner or management company managing a building without an on-site manager will not simply place a lockbox at a property and indiscriminately allow strangers to view it. Aside from giving scammers the opportunity to take advantage of the public, it can leave the owner vulnerable to a slew of problems, including squatters. Remember that once someone has a lease for your property, legitimate or not, they will likely get their day in court and you might have to go through the entire costly and time consuming unlawful detainer (UD) process.
The best way to protect your investment is to make sure you or your management company is frequently checking your/
their ads, frequently going by the property, and making sure that access to your rental home or apartment is not being given without taking strict precautions. Consider cameras
as they are relatively inexpensive and easy to install or take a look at ring.com where you are notified when someone rings the doorbell – you can see and talk to them.