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Woman loses nearly $2,000 in South Bend home rental scam

NOW: Woman loses nearly $2,000 in South Bend home rental scam

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- A woman is out nearly $2,000 after trying to rent a South Bend home, only to find out the living conditions are so poor that she cannot even live in the home.

The home on King Street was recently condemned by the city. Kristen Mattison, the woman who tried to rent the property, told ABC 57 that the landlord, whose name is listed as Chong Zhao in a lease given to Mattison, refused to return her money or fix up the property.

Mattison contacted the landlord after seeing an ad on Facebook. Mattison toured through a small portion of the property with the landlord, but he refused to show her the entire housing, stating that repairs needed to be made and he planned on hiring professionals, according to Mattison. Mattison told ABC 57 she had confidence the home would be fixed and paid the landlord $1,800 around September 27th.

“I’ll never do that again,” said Mattison.

The following day, Mattison’s father was cleaning up the home when the landlord allegedly showed up. Instead of hiring professionals, Mattison told ABC 57 that the landlord planned on completing the repairs himself.

“But he came over here on his own terms, without us knowing,” said Mattison. “Didn’t let us know ‘Oh I’m going to go check on the house’…be working on it or anything…I just caught him over here in the house.”

When Mattison confronted the man, he then tried to grab the house keys from her hands and told her they were not allowed to be there and he would take them to court, according to Mattison.

A woman who moved out of the home directly across the street just over a month ago told ABC 57 that this is not the first family that had been scammed.

“5 or 6 different families moved into this house and out of this house within a month and a half’s time,” said Chelsea Henderson, former neighbor.

Henderson even witnessed the landlord changing the locks on the home while previous tenants were out of town on vacation.

Henderson described razors in the downstairs bathroom wall and what she believed to be human feces under layers of carpeting at one time. No one should be living at the property, according to Mattison.

The landlord is still advertising the property online for rent. ABC 57 did reach out to the landlord but the man has yet to respond.

Mattison told ABC 57 that she hopes the man doesn’t try to rent to anybody else in these conditions and just wants to find a new home.

“I just hope I get my money back so that I can get a different place to stay,” said Mattison. “[Find] a different home for me and my daughter,” continued Mattison.

Judith Fox, Clinical Law Professor, told ABC 57 that first and foremost, a property needs to be habitable and this happens more than you can imagine in this city.

“I have yet to see a landlord who promises to bring a property like this up to code before you move in actually do that,” said Fox. “If this property’s in really bad shape and they’re renting it you…they’re probably not going to fix it before you move in, so don’t move in,” advised Fox.

South Bend launched a Rental Verification Program at the start of 2019, but the city is currently only looking at properties with an active code enforcement case due to how new the program is. In the following years, the city will end up inspecting all potential rental properties within South Bend. Code Enforcement will still respond to current complaints if a resident does reach out.

If you are interested in finding out if a property you are looking to rent or buy has an outstanding fines or violations, you can use the link here to fill out a form with the city.

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