Tuesday, November 27, 2007
7 News Investigations: Rental Rip-Off
People getting ripped off is nothing new, but leave it to South Florida to come up with a new way to separate an honest person from their money. It begins with home foreclosures, and in one case a man losing his home in foreclosure is charged with ripping off people trying to find a home. How did he allegedly do it? Here is Patrick Fraser with his special report, Rental Rip-Off.
WSVN -- It was going to be the young family's first house.
Joshua Lowe: "She was pregnant."
Jesenia: "We wanted to start off like a family together."
It was the perfect place for a college student.
Kelly Robinson: "It was clean, it was large and the fact it was furnished because I didn't have any furniture at the time."
A nice little one bedroom, one bath home going for a great price.
Sgt. Randall Pelham: "So when the people saw that they could rent a furnished apartment in a nice neighborhood for $790, he had a lot of takers on it."
The place would have normally rented for a lot more but the owner told them he had a good reason for cutting the price.
Joshua Lowe: "He showed us pictures of his daughter, he said she died in a motorcycle accident. He said didn't like being in the house because that's where his daughter once lived."
The potential renters put down a deposit and, on move-in day, they all met each other.
Joshua Lowe: "A couple hours later, I came back, it was like seven people out here, seven different families."
Joshua Lowe: "One lady showed up with a moving van full of her furniture, said she just left her husband, she had her kids, she just broke out crying and left."
Turns out the place had been rented to at least nine different people, all paid a deposit, all signed a lease, and all were given the same day to move in.
Sgt. Randall Pelham: "They all started showing up, saying, 'This is my apartment, no, wait a second there must be a mistake, it's mine,' and after about the sixth or seventh person showed up, they began to realize this was probably a scam."
Police believe it's fraud, and they suspect the man who pulled it off is this man, Astrel Auguste.
Sgt. Randall Pelham: "I have a sense that he probably is in some type of distress, unknown reasons behind it, but he's obviously got a need for a large amount of cash quickly. The mistake he made was that he actually owned the property."
That's right, according to police and the Broward property appraiser's records Astrel Auguste is the owner of this property.
Now, rental rip-offs are pretty common, but not like this. An owner would never risk losing their property unless the owner's house was going into foreclosure, and they were going to lose it anyway. Right now, Auguste's house is in foreclosure.
Chris Kelley is a real estate attorney who has never seen a homeowner accused of a rental rip-off like this, but he says with foreclosures soaring, get ready for it.
Chris Kelley: "They'll be more deceit and more empty properties, more foreclosure, people moving out, and the unsuspecting public could be taken advantage of."
A warrant was issued for Auguste's arrest. Police looked for him but no luck.
Sgt. Randall Pelham: "At this time we've checked a few locations but have been unable to find him."
Then, early this week, police found him. Auguste was arrested, charged with grand theft and held on a $25,000 bond.
Actually, he might be better off in jail instead of dealing with so many of the renters' wrath.
The rip-off was so detailed, many of the renters were given keys, but opening the door was a reminder of the money they all lost.
Joshua Lowe: "It gets me frustrated just looking at it. No, I'm not trespassing. I rented this place. I got scammed."
Frustrated and fuming.
Joshua Lowe: "It really hurt us, but made us realize, you can't really trust anybody these days, you've got to be careful in everything you do, you've got to be careful."
They were careful, but, when you have a key to a house and a lease, who would ever suspect you are about to unlock the newest type of rental rip-off?