Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Las Vegas is a hot rental market right now, and countless online listings make finding a place easy. But when you're surfing the web, beware of who you're doing business with.
"It's a three bedroom, two bath. It's really big," said Nayeli Nevarez.
She was thrilled to find a spacious Henderson home for rent last October. The craigslist ad she came across, was asking for $1,200 a month.
"Plus, they required $2,900 down," said Nayeli.
It was pricey. But Nayeli called the number in the ad, and met with a man claiming to be the owner's son. But he didn't have keys to the front door.
"They had keys to the backdoor actually. They just told me that they were renting this house before, and I just needed to change the locks," said Nayeli.
She said the roomy house was exactly what she needed, with three kids and a fourth on the way. So she agreed to a one-year lease, and said she paid $6,500 in cash.
"We paid like three months in advance. We thought we were going to be here for awhile," said Nayeli.
The family moved in Nov. 1, and Nayeli said she put some money into the home, getting some things fixed, plus installing new locks. But a few weeks later, Nayeli said she found an eviction notice on their front door.
"I actually called the Constable's and said what's going on? They said the landlords are filing that you guys just illegally moved into their home," said Nayeli.
She said she tried contacting the man who had showed her the home. But his number was disconnected, "That's when I went down to Henderson and I filed a motion to appeal this."
A hearing was held on Dec. 17, 2013. That's when Nayeli learned the truth, "I actually met with the real owners of the house, and I'd never seen them before."
It wasn't the owner's son who had shown her the home and collected her money.
"The owners were actually like no, we want them out because we don't know them. The judge told them, well these people are victims as well. So I can't just kick them out of the home," said Nayeli.
The judge gave Nayeli until Jan. 3 to move out her family. Contact 13 spoke with her, as the family was packing up to move to North Dakota, "I'm out of here. I've been given away my stuff because I can't take everything with me."
It's evidently a stressful situation for a lot of people in the valley.
Jim Berchtold with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada said they've seen dozens of cases like Nayeli's.
"In the last year we've definitely seen a rise in people who are coming in and have rented from people who have no interest in the property at all, and no authority to rent the property," said Jim.
The most important thing you can do when renting, is make sure you're dealing with the real owner.
"Look at their ID. What does their ID say? Are they in fact the property owner?" said Jim.
You can verify who owns a property with a quick search on the Clark County Assessor's website.
Consider the cost of rent. Some thieves offer deals too good to be true, in order to grab your attention. Or in Nayeli's case, the scammer was asking for a pricey down payment on top of the rent, in order to collect as much as possible from his victim.
The best way to protect yourself, is to get help from a professional realtor. A property owner pays an agent's fee, meaning there's no cost to you the renter. Nayeli said she plans to hire a realtor next time. An important lesson learned the hard way.
Here's the Contact 13 bottom line: Take steps to protect yourself. If you fall victim to a rental scam, there is no recourse. Because a property owner is the only one with authority to rent out their home.
Don't forget we've got your back Southern Nevada. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll see what we can do to help.