Investigation: State Shuts Down “Scam” Business Targeting Renters

One of the busiest rental listing services in southern California has closed its doors in the wake of an NBC4 I-Team investigation. 

In August the I-Team exposed how Star Rentals promised to find renters homes and apartments, but those clients say the agency took their money and didn’t deliver.

Star Rentals closed down and moved out of its Downey offices in late September, just two days before the California Department of Real Estate served Star’s operator, Laura Tucker, with an “Order to Desist and Refrain” from doing business.

Phil Ihde of the California Department of Real Estate told the NBC4 I-Team that Star Rentals appeared to be scamming customers. “It’s misrepresentation on the surface. It’s fraud and dishonest dealing at its heart,” Ihde said of Star’s business practices.

During the NBC4 investigation, the I-Team’s hidden cameras caught the rental agency’s alleged scam on video.

The I-Team sent in two researchers to Star Rentals, posing as apartment hunters. A Star sales agent asked them to pay $150 cash, and in return she gave the researchers listings of eight homes and apartments she claimed were all available for rent in their price range.

The I-Team discovered that five of listings were not for rent at all, and the other three that were available, were far costlier than Star had said.

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When the researchers went back to Star asking for a refund, which they were guaranteed under their contract, Star’s manager, who identified himself as “Johnathan,” said “not today.”

The I-Team found dozens of other customers who also claim Star Rentals promised to find them apartments and homes but didn’t, and then wouldn’t give them refunds. “They left me homeless, because they promised to give me a home that I can afford, but I have not gotten anything,” said Marissa Merino of Pico Rivera, who says she paid Star $160 dollars for homefinding services she didn’t get.

After the I-Team concluded its investigation, the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) did its own investigation into Star.

The result: the DRE found Star Rentals “engaging in acts or practices constituting a violation” of California law, by not providing the services it promised.

In terms of customer volume, Star Rentals was considered one of the busiest in the area, according to the DRE. There were close to 50 complaints filed against the company, which the Better Business Bureau says is unusally high.

DRE investigators yesterday served Laura Tucker, operator of Star, with an Order to Cease and Desist doing business. But when NBC4 showed up at Star Rentals today to try and talk to Tucker, the offices were cleared out.

Star Rentals leaves a trail of angry customers, including Merino. “They have to give us our money back,” Marino said.

She and other customers may have some recourse. If you think you’re owned a refund by a rental listing service, you can file a claim with the California Department of Real Estate.

Here’s the form to file a claim (pdf). Here are the instructions on how to file a claim (pdf).

More on this story: Alleged Scam Targets Apartment, House Hunters

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