May 5, 2010

Caveat Renter: Craigslist scam hits local landlords

Owners of a local home they were renting out appear to the victim of a bizarre housing scam where tenants are attempting to rent the house out themselves.

Brothers Steve and George Demos own a home they rented out to a Milwaukee woman about three months ago. The woman paid $2,500 up front and the deal appeared to be on the up-and-up. But the tenants never moved into the home, haven't paid their monthly rent, won't return phone calls, don't live at the address they provided and now they appear to be advertising the five-bedroom home for rent.

The home is listed for rent on Craigslist, a free online classified website, with a fake email address under the name of a previous tenant. The name was likely taken off of junk mail delivered to the house. If you write the email address, you'll get a response seeking a down payment on the apartment with a credit card.

George Demos said he didn't know what to make of the situation. "I'm trying to figure out what the scam is," Demos said. "I'm sure there is one."

The situation has left the Demos's in a difficult situation. The tenants have a five-year lease on the home. Lawyers told Demos he needs to go through a full eviction process to break the contract, or risk the tenants coming back and claiming they have a right to live in the house.

That could take at least two months, if not longer. In the meantime, the Demos's are paying utilities and property taxes on the house with no income coming in.

What's sinister about the scam is the tenants appeared to be upstanding citizens with plenty of money to rent the home. Demos said their check cleared and they came across as a good fit. Now, it's clear they had ulterior motives for signing the rental contract.

And, just to add to the frustration, even though the Craig's List ad is clearly a fraud, the Demos's can't get the service to pull it down. They've reported the listing fraudulent several times, but it's still on the site.

Apartment scams on Craigslist are common across the country. Several websites exist to help people avoid the scams, which appear to target people looking for good deals - often too good - on apartments. That appears to be the case with the Demos's house, which is listed in the fake ad at 11 percent below market rate for similar houses.

The key to avoiding apartment scams: 1.) If it's too good to be true, it probably is. And, 2.) Don't pay security deposits online without seeing the apartment and signing a contract. If the ad offers an incredible deal and needs money wired to them immediately, it's probably a scam.


  1. There seems to be an unusually high amount of scams this year. Many preying on the elderly. Is this my imagination or is the economy bringing out a higher number of scum bags than normal?

  2. Lease or not, if they're not paying rent the landlord can evict them. There are a lot of rental scams on craigslist lately. I noticed a few obvious ones when I was looking for a new place. I saw where people will snag pictures and house information off of a realty site, then offer it up for rent at a super low price. It's so obvious.