The Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR) has received reports from members doing business in Santa Clara County of a scam by individuals fraudulently posing as landlords and misrepresenting vacant properties for lease.

Using various websites, the scam artists advertise a home for rent, when the property is actually for sale. Prospective tenants who call the phone number provided in the false rental advertisement are then directed to provide an application fee and rental deposit immediately if they wanted to lease the unit.

The scam was discovered once prospective tenants contacted the actual listing agent to gain access to view the property. Law enforcement authorities have been notified of the attempted scam.

“It is tragic that people continue to prey on consumers who are in need of a place to rent. Potential renters are convinced to pay deposits and rent to unscrupulous people who take the money and run with the tenant left wondering what happened and with no funds to rent another property,” said Suzanne Yost, president of SILVAR. “We are asking consumers to always verify the owner of the property you intend to rent and heed guidance issued by the California Department of Real Estate (DRE).”

The DRE last year issued a warning about “impostor landlords” and provides the following guidance to protect consumers from this type of scam:

  • Ask anyone offering a house for rent to provide you with proof that they own the house, and to show you their government issued picture identification. Then scrutinize the proof of ownership, as well as the identifications since there is also the risk that their identifications can be false.
  • If you think that you are dealing with an owner’s/landlord’s representative, you should check with the DRE to see if that representative or agent is licensed. This is because a real estate license is required, with some narrow exceptions, for a person to offer a house for rent as an agent of the owner. Check the license records on the DRE website ( and make sure you are working with legitimate licensees.
  • If you are an existing tenant, you should check with the County Recorder’s office to verify the property’s owner of record. If the house has been foreclosed upon, you should contact the new owner and verify with the current owner the person to whom you should be forwarding your rental payments.

If you feel you have dealt with a scammer in the area of a housing rental or have been defrauded in connection with rental of a house, please contact the DRE at the following numbers: For Spanish-speaking consumers, call 1-877-DRE-4321; for consumers in the Bay Area, call (510) 622-2552.