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A rental scam to watch out for on the Central Coast

Posted at 10:38 AM, Mar 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-17 13:38:20-04

A tight rental market can make people look for deals that may be too good to be true.

KSBY spoke with a local business owner who nearly lost thousands of dollars because of an online rental scam. Now, he wants other people to take note so it doesn’t happen to them.

“It was really the quality of the house, and the price, that’s what drew me in,” said San Luis Obispo resident and Gymnazofounder Michael Hughes.

While searching on Realtor.com, Hughes came across a home with a beautiful backyard, multiple bedrooms and a price that can’t be beat. He reached out to the so-called landlord, but almost immediately, came the red flags.

“It got personal real quick. Like, tell me about yourself. Tell about your family. Give us a picture of your family,” said Hughes.

And then came the landlord’s background story.

“There always is a story," said Hughes. "And that story was, we don't live here, we're moving to Wisconsin. We want great renters, and we had this amazing opportunity to buy this house. We know it's undervalue. We just want to help someone else out.”

And finally, they asked for $5000.

“We're going to send you all the paperwork, all the keys, all the things," Hughes said. "I haven't been inside of it. I haven't looked in the backyard. I haven't met them. Just 'send us this money and we'll send the packet back'.”

Rick Lopes with the Department of Real Estate says the biggest rental scam they are currently seeing has to do with identity theft on various rental sites.

”The biggest red flag is someone who wants you to put money down on a property before you actually see it,” said Lopes.

Lopes continued, ”Unfortunately, scammers are out there grabbing those pictures, creating whole new postings on different websites and showing those homes actually being for rent and at a very attractive rental price."

Kenneth Trigueiro of People's Self Help Housing says the tight housing market in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties could make desperate renters more vulnerable.

“Just within those two counties, we have 13,000 households on our waitlists for just around 2000 units," said Trigueiro. "We're really seeing more people calling and talking to us about sort of crisis level conditions that they're faced in and feeling more desperate each day.”

“You hear the old adage about things that look too good to be true - that’s certainly the case," said Lopes. "Especially in a tight housing market like you have on the Central Coast. There are not a lot of rentals available. The good ones usually going to go pretty quickly. So if you see a really good house and what you think is a really low price you at least have to stop and ask yourself - is there some reason why that’s the case. ”

We asked Hughes, who is a successful business owner in San Luis Obispo, how he nearly fell for this scam.

“I played into it because, like, you're always looking for the best deal,” Hughes laughed.

Fortunately, he didn’t lose any money - but did lose a little faith in people who take advantage of others in a vulnerable situation.

“You're moving your livelihood, moving your family, like your home is like a sanctuary. It guts you - it’s like that’s just so messed up,” said Hughes.