OCALA, Fla. – A family in Florida is struggling to find a new place to live, weeks after moving from Louisiana to Florida, only to discover that the person who rented to them did not own the home or have the authority to rent it.
“It’s just a terrible situation.” Christopher Carpenter said. “I have ten days to get our belongings out of the house.”
Carpenter and his fiancée found the rental listing for the Marion County home posted on Facebook Marketplace and began contacting who they believed was the owner of the home, he said. And it all seemed mostly legit, she said.
“It looked legitimate. He sent us legitimate documents. We had to do the digital signatures. It looked real,” Carpenter said. She said the landlord sent them a copy of his ID, so they knew who they were working with, who to send the money to, and even sent them lease documents to sign. They paid the first month, the last month and a security deposit totaling about $3,000, Carpenter said.
When they went to look at the house, they were unable to meet with the person they had been speaking with, Carpenter said. But, the alleged scammer had the codes for the electronic key box and was able to see the house.
Days after moving in, however, is when the red flags started piling up.
“He called us Tuesday. ‘I’m making a special deal for my tenants, if you pay me two months’ rent right now, we’ll give you the fourth month free,'” the man said, according to Carpenter.
The next day, the property manager showed up at the house with clients ready to view the property, only to be told that another family lived there.
“It’s horrible,” said Rasha Almallah, owner of Deacon & Soldier Properties. She said it’s the second time in four months that someone has tried to collect rent on one of the properties she managed, even though they aren’t the actual owners.
“They will just pray for the people who are desperate for housing because the market right now, there is a huge shortage,” Almallah said.
As for what’s next for the Carpenters, they have to find a place to live soon. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that it is investigating the situation.
For those who may be looking at rentals, Almallah has this advice: “always look up to see who you’re renting from. Make sure you’re renting from the owner.” To do that, you can visit each county’s property appraiser’s website and type in the address.
Almallah said the owner of the property should always be listed on the lease as another way to verify names.