Westminster man moves into home already owned by someone else

An online scammer pushed a man into an already owned home - and the murky law could be problematic.

You've probably heard of one of those Craigslist rental scams.

The price is usually too good to be true. All you have to do is send a check to a guy out of state and he'll mail you the keys.

What if you take the bait, pay the money and move in? That's exactly what happened in Westminster.

"I feel like I just lost all my money and feel very scammed," said James Pierce. "I don't know why people want to scam people because life is pretty hard right now."

James Pierce moved into a three-bedroom home on Newland Street in mid-June. He saw the ad on Craigslist from a guy named Don Miller.

Don told Pierce he was out of town, dealing with a sick relative, but could rent the home for $950 per month. Pierce took him up on the offer, sent him the first month’s rent and a security deposit totaling $1700.

“It looked kind of sketchy, but I was just trying it out,” Pierce said.

Turns out, the same property on Newland Street is listed online by Waypoint Homes. It’s listed for $1880 per month and marked as “coming soon” with an estimated available date of June 3. 9NEWS reached out to Waypoint Homes about the listing. The company said it does not employ Don Miller. James Pierce said Waypoint Homes has not contacted him, but he expects he’ll have to leave. 

“As soon as you leave property vacant, you run into a number of possible risks,” said CU-Boulder law professor, Richard Collins. “I mean burglary, but this is just a new twist on burglary, is it not?”

Collins has taught property law for about 30 years. He said the digital age has opened the door for cases like the one in Westminster. While it’s unlikely the case will ever end up in court, such cases can take time to settle.

"A judge who gets a case like this, looks at it and says, 'there's no existing legal remedy that directly answers this, so I've got to proceed carefully. I've got to treat this as if it were a contest of who owns the property.’” Collins said. “And those contests involve a fairly slow process."

Collins said James Pierce may be safe staying in the home on Newland Street until someone provides clear proof he doesn’t belong there. Waypoint Homes is aware of the situation, but a representative would not comment on what action would be taken.

“[Pierce] can be expelled,” Collins said. “He won’t get his money back unless they can find the scammer, which is unlikely, so he’s going to be to out some money – whatever he’s been paying to the scammer.”

James Pierce is trying to figure out what to do next, but he’s learned a valuable lesson.

“Meet people before you give them the money,” he said.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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