BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A homeowner is facing a financial headache after squatters descended on her property.
Real estate broker Roger Magana said the house is currently in escrow, but they can’t close because squatters are already living in the house against the homeowner's will.
"They're taking advantage of the vacant properties right now, moving into these properties, stating that they do have a rental agreement with someone, so they can basically live for free on the property," Magana said.
Rental agreement or not, Magana said whoever put that house up for rent is nowhere to be found.
For the time being, the tenants are there to stay.
"We see it quite often,” said attorney Xochitl Garcia. "People will find a rental home on Craigslist, they'll go to the rental home, they'll look at it, they'll meet with someone and not understand and not know that person is renting that home fraudulently."
Garcia said the tenants may be as much a victim as the homeowner. Renters can be scammed out of first- and last-months' rent, plus a security deposit.
"A lot of times, they'll pay in cash and move into the rental home, only to find out that they didn't give their money to the owner, and they're actually living in the home without the owner's permission,” Garcia said.
Garcia said as soon as the tenants move in, all the homeowner can do is serve an eviction notice.
"Unfortunately, everyone loses, because this person who's rented the unit loses money and loses possession and risks having an eviction on their record," Garcia said. "The landlord loses, because they've been a victim of the scam, too. They lose rental money, and they no longer have possession of their home."
Even if the tenants are evicted, Magana said the situation is still a major headache for his client, not to mention a cost of at least $700 in legal fees.
"If there is any damage to the property, the buyer can say, 'You know what, I don't want this property anymore,' so now we're back to zero where, you know, if we don't sell the property, the bank will foreclose the property," Magana said.
Garcia gave the following tips to homeowners and prospective renters:
- Do your homework. Check online, go to the city and confirm the name of the homeowner.
- Find out if the home is listed for sale.
- Never pay first- and last-month’s rent or security deposits in cash.
- For homeowners, check on the property often and ensure it does not look vacant.