Savannah company warns of increase in rental property scams

Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 3:49 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Local rental property leaders say scams are becoming more common and sophisticated in the Savannah area.

A rental property group in Savannah said in the last six weeks, they’ve had multiple issues with people gaining access to homes that they don’t own and then charging other people to live there.

A report filed with the Savannah Police Department shows that property managers with the rental company went to check on their empty rental property on Jan. 3. Instead, they found a couple and their baby living there.

The report shows the couple had paid a $500.00 security deposit to someone else to live there.

The next week the same thing. The company found a woman living in one of their properties, thinking she had rented it legitimately from someone else.

“They were just either left a key or given some sort of a code to get in, and then here they are, now homeless, because I’ve rented this property to someone else. I can’t rent it to you, also,” Jessica Pace said.

Family Promise is an organization that helps people find affordable housing. Executive Director Katrina Bostick says that unfortunately, these schemes are becoming more and more common as the affordable housing crisis continues.

“Cash is being exchanged, and now families and individuals are out of thousands of hard-earned dollars that they’ve really worked hard to save for, and now they can no longer recoup those funds,” Bostick says.

The fake landlords, Pace said, gain access to the homes by posing as a renter.

They use keys or access codes that are meant to be used by potential renters to tour a property, but then they let others into the home as if they own it.

Now, the rental company is installing security cameras on properties, keeping a close eye on who has the keys, and changing access codes frequently.

“We’re going through all of this currently just to make sure that these people aren’t able to do what they’re trying to do, and scam unknowing individuals out of their money,” Pace said.

Bostick says there are less-extreme cases of rent scams going on, as well.

It doesn’t always end with someone illegitimately moving into a home but does usually end with people losing cash - a devastating setback for many people.

“We know many families are very vulnerable in this space right now, and they’re desperate and they’ll do anything to get into a house. How do we safeguard them from becoming prey?” Bostick said.

Bostick says a good rule of thumb when searching for a rental home is that if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If you’re ever unsure, she says you can reach out to Family Promise, and they’ll check and make sure that you’re working with the actual property owner.