Thankfully, we’re able to offer you tips on how to handle this frustrating situation. We recently went through a process where a homeowner came to us seeking help. Let’s look at what you can do, so if this ever happens to you, you’ll know what steps to take.
We’re assuming you’re in the position where somebody has moved into your rental property for this article, and that it was originally listed on Craigslist for rent by the scammer.
Your home has been hijacked. Now what?
In our video about how to protect your home, we go over multiple steps to prep you once your home is vacated again. Be sure to take a moment to watch that, and pick up a couple of preventative tips for future use. Now, what’s next?
- Report the incident to the police. Now, you may run into a stumbling block of them telling you it’s a civil matter for the courts. Make sure you word it in such a way that they understand you’re a victim, and that somebody is in your home that you did not give permission to be there. Tell them that you were the victim of a scam, and that somebody has placed a tenant in your home, and it wasn’t you. They may send somebody out to help, but it’s a 50/50 chance, but once that report is filed, it’s on record which is important.
- You’ll need to report the incident to Craigslist, or if it was on any other site such as Facebook, Zillow, or Apartments.com, notify them about what has happened. See if they have any contact information on the person that placed the ad.
- (#3 and #4 can be done in either order.) If you’re able to collect information about the tenant, without an argument or confrontation, learn what you can. See if there’s a lease they signed, ask for a copy of it, get their contact information and the contact information of the person they spoke to about the home. Who has the home owner been communicating with? (Important note: Remember, they are a victim too and have lost time and money. They are in shock about the situation as well, and probably emotional. Do NOT confront them, only work with them if they are cooperative.)
- Contact a lawyer. Do not make any promises to the tenant. Protect the interest of the property and focus on clarity, even though this can be an emotional situation. Be careful what you say to the tenant (which is why you may choose to do this as step #3), and make zero commitments until you’ve taken care of the property. The lawyer will help you understand the laws and actions you can and can’t take in the matter based on where you’re located.
- Be open to negotiation. It may save you costly time and headaches. Maybe you can work something out with the tenant, but don’t feel obligated. Offer them assistance in moving out, such as a bank does with foreclosure using a system they call “cash for keys” —and it’s an option that may work for both parties. By helping them relocate it may end up being less costly than going through the court battle. Remember, they are a victim too, and probably just as thrown by all of this as you are. (If you enter into an agreement, it’s important to make sure it’s written down. Your attorney can help with this, such as the condition the home should be in, how much you’ll be compensating them, etc.)
Remember: No confrontations, contact the police, and contact your lawyer. Also reach out to the company where the ad was posted and collect any information that you’re able to, along with having the ad removed.