DETROIT – Fraud artists claiming to be landlords has become a persistent scam, and nobody knows how widespread it is. Fake landlords collect rent on property they don't actually own, which is exactly what happened to a man from Detroit's east side.
Luckily, this man's case had a happy ending, thanks to the Detroit Land Bank and alert neighbors.
Curtis Markray lost his home to tax foreclosure more than a year ago after going on disability insurance and losing his job. But Markray grew suspicious of his new landlord when the man balked at basic maintenance, like removing a dead tree.
Markray paid the man $550 per month for more than a year before asking the Land Bank if it owned the property and found out the landlord was a fraud.
"I paid this guy over $7000 for nothing. So I knew I had a way out. I didn’t feel trapped anymore," Markray said.
Officers from the 9th Precinct were ready when the con artist showed up to collect the rent. The man was arrested when he lied to officers, telling them he was a legal owner.
The Land Bank estimates 3,000 to 4,000 of its properties are occupied but has no way of knowing how many are being victimized.
"We’re working very closely with the Detroit Police Department and Wayne Co. and trying to make sure we can catch as many of these people as we can," said Craig Fahle, of Detroit Land Bank.
Now Markray is enrolled in the Land Bank's Occupied Buyback program. He paid $1,000 and is making monthly payments into a tax escrow fund. At the end of a year, he'll have an unrestricted deed to his house.
"You know that, to own something rather than rent, that’s the American way. Now I can think like a normal person, as far as finish fixing up around here and do what I need to do," Markray said.
Anyone who suspects they might be a victim of fake landlords can ask the Wayne County Register of Deeds to do a title search or email the Detroit Land Bank to see if a home is on its list of properties.
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