Hi Augusta Business Daily! My name is Leanna Woodward, yes Woodward, you read
that right. I am the daughter of your favorite realtor and the usual writer of this column,
Shawna Woodward. My mom asked me to write this article because I am a living,
breathing cautionary tale about rental fraud.
My mom told me, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” and man, was she
right. The rental market has been a nightmare here in Savannah, especially being as
young and inexperienced as I am. But, I should have listened to her advice, and my gut,
when trying to find a new place to rent. This story is entirely true and I hope in telling
you this, you will learn from my mistakes.
Upon first moving out of the dorms my sophomore year, I moved into a beautiful historic house in the heart of Downtown Savannah. This house had recently been renovated, aka it got the landlord special. After a few months of living there, the house began to fall apart right in front of my eyes. This house was built around 1900, I assumed the
renovations fixed the dated bones of the house, naivety number one. While this wasn’t a
huge concern for me, as a college student who was rarely home, it really became an
issue when none of my maintenance requests were being answered.
Next thing I knew,
a man was at my front door telling me the house had been foreclosed on and me and
my roommates had very little time to get out. I tried to reach out to my landlord with no
avail and the property manager said they had no idea what was going on and then
eventually ghosted me and my two roommates. People continually stopped by looking
at the house, as it was up for foreclosure, until eventually a realtor representing the new
owner, gave us the real rundown. It became very clear at that moment that we HAD to
move, and quickly.
So, with three months to find a new place, in an already hectic Downtown Savannah environment, I introduce naivety number two. I found a lovely apartment complex in
Midtown. I went in for a tour where they showed me a staged unit. Since I was in such a
hurry, I asked how likely it would be for me to get the ball rolling on an apartment as it was in my budget, a good area and the leasing agent seemed nice enough.
They were ecstatic and helpful and I filled out an application and paid an administrative fee, a very
expensive administrative fee at that, I was promised that if I fully filled out the
application 48 hours after touring, I would be reimbursed all fees. So, as any broke
college student would, I did! But, I wasn’t allowed to tour what would be my unit. I was
told it would be ready about a week before I was supposed to be out of my recently
foreclosed living space.
Once it finally got to my move-in date, I got radio silence from the apartment complex.
Long story short, my apartment was delayed over and over again and even after calling
multiple times to say I wouldn’t be moving in, they still had me as a resident. The
strange thing is, I never even signed a lease? All I did was apply, but then it got worse.
The complex underwent new management and somehow didn’t have it down that I had
paid the application and administrative fees. They then kept sending me collections
notices and it was absolutely impossible to get anyone on the phone or to truly resolve
Turns out, if you leave a scathing review on google, your issues will be
tended to extremely quickly! With only a day left before the “unpaid” fees would be sent
to collections, I finally got some adequate help and had my original transactions verified
and the collections harassment canceled.
Now we get to the really juicy stuff, also known as naivety number three and
undoubtedly the worst one. After my fiasco with the apartment complex, I was stuck with
a week to find a new home, which made me desperate. This is when I took my mothers
advice for granted. I saw a listing on Zillow for a house right near the iconic Forsyth park
for an incredible price. I communicated with the so-called owner the night I saw the
listing and went to meet him and tour it the very next morning. This is where I majorly
messed up. I liked the house well enough, it had everything I would need and was in an
incredible location for a truly unbelievable price. Once the tour concluded the man
showing me the house urgently wanted to rent to me without doing any applications,
any background or credit checks and just emailed me the lease to sign on the spot. Now
I know, you, whoever you are, reading this is thinking, “this girl is dumb,” and you may
be right, but I’m also a twenty year old college student who needed housing and fast!
I did the dumb thing and I signed the lease electronically, without reading it and without
the funds to pay for the first month. So, because of my lack of funds I called your
favorite realtor and my favorite mom to tell her how I needed money so I could have
somewhere to live. After assessing the situation she said no, obviously and then we had
an extensive conversation about rental fraud. Come to find out, after some very light
googling, I learned this man was not a licensed realtor, nor the owner of the house he
showed me, he had also been arrested multiple times and had a sex trafficking charge
Luckily, the lease was not valid, duh, and I filed a police report. My mom and I both took
some scary text-threats from this guy and we were ready to take legal action.
Eventually, he realized his scam wasn’t going to work this time and he gave up. This is
all crazy scary but it’s also crazy true. Luckily, I moved out of downtown and found a
wonderful apartment for a reasonable price in an awesome area.
So... I’ve found they’re not all bad and you can find something that will work for you if
you take a deep breath and exercise some caution.