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Beware of Rental Scam Using Foreclosures

5:20 PM, May 30, 2011   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Pamela Lewis has few words to describe what happened.

"These last few days (have been) hell, excuse my language, because I am scared to leave," she said.

Her nightmare began in August when she rented a house - which  was not actually authorized by the owner to be rented. Now she is afraid to leave her home because she doesn't know what she'd return to find.

After searching Craigslist, she found a two-story house near Morse Avenue on Jacksonville's Westside. "They were here on the property working," said Lewis.

After making contact with the person she thought was the property owner, Lewis said a week later she signed a lease with James Loen to rent the property for $950 a month.

She said that Loen told her he was the landlord. September 2010, Lewis moved in.

But in May, eight months later, a man showed up at her front door, and told her he was the owner, he didn't know who she was and that she needed to move out.

"He gave me a 24-hour notice, stuck it on my door. The cops seen it and said this is illegal he can't do this, he typed it up and signed it," said Lewis.

Records at the property appraiser's office identified the owner as Damien Compo. "That's who he said he was and he wants me out," she said.

Lewis said since this ordeal began the breakers from her A/C units are missing and there is damage to the window screen.

On Your Side put her in contact with Erica Shaffor, an attorney with Three Rivers Legal Service. Shaffor said even if a tenant signs a fake lease with a phony landlord, the tenant has rights. "The tenant cannot just be thrown out by the alleged owner," said Shaffor.

Shaffor said the property owner has to file for an 'ejectment.' She said Lewis had every reason to believe her lease was legal.

"In a lot of the cases...this is happening is with foreclosed properties," she said.

We checked county court records and found the house was in foreclosure, but this month that foreclosure lawsuit was "dismissed without prejudice for failure to prosecute."

Lewis said now that she knows she was scammed, she's in the process of finding a new home, but said she can't move as quickly as the property owner wants her to move.

"You know, we are both victims in this," said Lewis.

Property owner Damien Compo said he was overseas and just returned to find someone in his home. 

"There was a property manager, but I lost touch. I will go to court; I want to do it the right way,"  said Compo.

Compo said he wants to sell the house in a short sale.

How do you protect yourself from becoming a victim like Lewis:

It is simple: Search the property appraiser's website to find the property owner, then search the clerk of courts website to see if the property is in a foreclosure lawsuit.



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