FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – This week CBS47 helped homeowners get their home back after a fraudulent lease left them locked out.

Friday, our station explores the eviction process in Fresno County as scammers target empty homes.

“Over the years it is a consistent problem,” said Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Tony Botti. “Real estate is ripe for fraud. Part of that is because the laws in California benefit the tenants way more than they do the landlord.”

The Sheriff’s Office Civil Unit handles all evictions in Fresno County including those inside the city limits.

“We are always busy,” said Botti. “We have about 45-50 evictions that we are doing each week, which is up.”

Botti said scammers are targeting homes for sale or abandoned. He said people will just move right in or pose as a real estate agent and rent it out.

“The poor people from out-of-state come visit their home or they get a phone call saying ‘Hey someone is living in their home’, and that creates a huge headache for them. They got to get the people out, they got to go to court,” said Botti.

In order for a California landlord to evict a tenant or a squatter, which is a person who starts living in an empty building:

  1. The landlord must give notice
  2. File a case with the court
  3. Get a judgment from the judge
  4. Once the judge approves the eviction, the Sheriff’s Office Eviction Team posts notice

“We like to go to post a notice on the business or on the home generally anywhere from 5-15 days in advance to let people know, ‘Hey you have been ordered to leave,” said Botti.

Once the 15 days is up, the eviction team knocks on the door, and whether the person is ready or not, they have to leave.

“It is obviously a very jarring moment for people but at the same time we have given them plenty of opportunities to move out on their own,” said Botti. “So you see cases where we are knocking on the door. They are literally just waking up.”

The Sheriff’s Office footage from one of the evictions shows a tenant answering the door and apologizing because she “just woke up”. Despite the Sheriff’s Office posting notice she and her significant other needed to be out. The man was napping in the back room, and a lot still needed to be packed up.

The locks are changed and the tenants grab the essentials but a lot is left behind. The landlord is required by law to give the tenants two weeks to pick up their things before they throw the stuff out.

Detective Tim Johnson advises homeowners selling their homes to:

  1. Keep an eye on the property
  2. Use a trustworthy real estate agent
  3. Submit a letter to law enforcement stating no one is to live in the home

“It is always a good idea to have some sort of documentation to show that you don’t want someone at your business or your residence,” said Johnson.

If you are a renter Johnson advises you:

  1. Pay with a check in order for the money to be tracked
  2. Be wary of listings on social media for house
  3. Double reference is the home for sale
  4. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is

If you are a landlord or moving away you should:

  1. Have someone you trust to keep an eye on the property
  2. Keep cameras up and running to deter activity
  3. If squatters move in, start the noticing and court process right away (the sooner the better)