The California Department of Real Estate (DRE) has become aware of unscrupulous activity by some persons who hold themselves out as owners of vacant houses (and/or agents of such owners). These people prey on desperate consumers who are looking for some place to rent. These cons are able to convince potential renters into paying money, which may include a first and last month’s rent and a security deposit, as well as follow up rental payments, for a house that is not owned by the supposed landlord.

  1. Gaining access to vacant houses by unlawfully breaking in, changing the locks, securing the properties and giving the illusion of ownership.
  2. Obtaining documents which are used to falsely used to prospective tenants that the houses are owned by them. For example, accessing the county assessor’s website, downloading and completing a document called Preliminary Change of Ownership Report. Sometimes even stamping it as “filed”.
  3. Making a payment of a small tax lien on a house, not owned by them, and then provides evidence of that payment as so-called proof that he or she owns the house.
  4. Sending out bogus letters, emails, and other documents which appear legitimate, instructing existing tenants to cease rental payments to the property owner and redirecting the tenants to pay their rent to these new “illegitimate” frauds. They may also prepare false leases or rental agreements to make everything look official.
  5. Advertising houses they do not own, for lease or rent on Craigslist or other sites.

These scammers generally use false names, making it difficult to track them down and bring them to justice. Bogus corporations, company or partnership names are being used as well. Do your homework to avoid becoming victimized.

  1. Ask for proof that they own the house, and to show you their government issued picture identification. Scrutinize the proof of ownership, as well as the identifications since there is also the risk that their identifications can be false.
  2. If you think that you are dealing with an owner’s/ landlord’s representative, you should check with the DRE to see if that representative or agent is licensed. A real estate license is required, with some narrow exceptions, for a person to offer a house for rent as an agent of the owner. Check out the license records through the DRE web site
  3. Check with the County Recorder to determine if the house has a Notice of Default recorded. If the property has been foreclosed, call the lender, servicer or owner to obtain the name of the company or individual who is their representative.

Check with the County Recorder’s office to verify the property’s owner of record. If the house has been foreclosed upon, you should contact the new owner and verify with the current owner the person to whom you should be forwarding your rental payments.
If you feel you have dealt with a scammer in the area of a housing rental or have been defrauded in connection with rental of a house, please contact the Department of Real Estate.

  • For Spanish-speaking consumers, call 1-877-DRE-4321
  • Consumers in Sacramento, CA (916) 227-0864;
  • Consumers in Fresno, (559) 445-5009;
  • Consumers in Los Angeles, (213) 576-6942;
  • Consumers in Oakland, (510) 622-2552; or
  • Consumers in San Diego, (619) 525-4192

County Properties, 24 years of brokerage experience, trust and a Member of the local Better Business Bureau! We offer free counseling in real estate regarding; home values and information on options of selling vs. Foreclosure.