Tampa Bay Real Estate Rental Fraud Scam

Real Estate Rental Fraud Scam

Matt, one of our sales managers went to check on one of their properties which was set to close in 2 days. There was a little drywall repair that needed to be done before closing day.

We’d been repairing this particular house and getting it ready for the market for months, and it hadn’t been lived in for nearly a year, but when Matt pulled into the driveway, something felt different. There was a storage trailer on the side of the house and there appeared to be some recent activity in and around the house that made it feel… inhabited. Matt assumed that one of the neighbors had parked their trailer there because they just didn’t have any room in their own driveway, and he just ignored the other things. However, when Matt put his key in the door, it didn’t work.

Then he heard children. Was someone squatting on their property?

Immediately, he called Chris and Jim, who rushed right over. A quick inspection of the area led them to think the worst. Jim knocked on the door, but got no answer. All 3 of them could hear activity, so Jim banged on the door MUCH louder. The door opened a crack, and a short conversation revealed that the occupants had rented the house from someone unknown to any of us.

A person named “Juan Miranda” had rented the house to the new tenants for $1200/month, with a first/last/deposit price of $3600 – which they paid in CASH.

We weren’t prepared for this. We knew it was possible, but we didn’t quite believe that it could happen to us. Boy, were we wrong.

So, if it can happen to us, it can happen to you.

Not So Common

Oddly enough, while you may hear about crimes like this in the news, the truth is that this kind of scam is rare. That’s because they are one-time opportunities. It’s difficult to run a scam like this over and over again in the same city without getting caught. People don’t soon forget getting conned out of $3600, and they’re quick to tell their friends and family about their misfortune.

But that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen to you or won’t happen again.

How to Prevent Rental Fraud

How can you protect yourself from something so unpredictable?

  1. Pay attention – Drive by your vacant property daily and look for changes that might indicate suspicious activity.
    • The Juan Miranda character apparently had enough time to change the locks and make some minor plumbing and drywall repairs without ever being detected. Not to blame the victim or anything, but we could probably have been more attentive.
  2. If it’s a vacant rental property that you’re worried about, then hire a property manager. – Property managers are good at keeping houses occupied with legitimate tenants. (If you need a recommendation, we like Palm Island Property Managers)
  3. Be prepared – We elected to pay the defrauded party to move, rather than put them through the torture of evicting them (which would have been a 45 day process). The house had already been sold, so evicting them would delay the closing AT LEAST 45 days, as well as put the property at risk for vandalism by the disgruntled party.