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Hemet man duped in foreclosure rental scam

January 28, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A man has been arrested on suspicion of carrying out a rental scam in the Hemet area.

For the resident who only wanted to give his first name, Lee, it all started about a month ago, when he saw a "for rent" sign in front of a Hemet home.

Lee wanted to move in, so he called the man who he said he was the owner, 57-year-old Antonio Simon.

"Everything seemed to be fine, let him know that I'd like to get in the house, he came up, wrote me a legal rental agreement," said Lee.

Lee says that's when he paid Antonio Simon $3,000, first and last month's rent.

But a few weeks later, he got a knock on the door from law enforcement.

"And he said, no, this house isn't supposed to be occupied, it would be owned by the bank, going up for auction," said Lee.

Police say Simon offered to rent out a home he didn't even own. And detectives say he's done it many times in the area, finding empty or foreclosed homes and renting them out, even though he's not the owner.

"We set up an operation where an undercover officer met with the suspect, requested to rent a house and signed a contract, and we then took the suspect into custody," said Riverside County Sheriff's Deputy Melissa Nieburger.

Simon is out on bail, and the district attorney continues to review the case.

In the meantime, Simon operates business as usual. In a rental guide, he has another home for rent, this one in San Jacinto.

During a phone call Friday, Simon told Eyewitness News he doesn't think he's doing anything illegal, citing a part of law known as "adverse possession."

Scott Altman, a vice dean at USC Law School, clarified adverse possession: "If you occupy property without the owner's consent for five years, and pay real estate taxes, adverse possession lets you become the owner. But up until those five years have passed, you're trespassing."

That applies not only to Antonio Simon, but Lee as well.

"I don't know, he's either crazy and going to lose everything, or he has a loophole like nobody knows and they're going to close that up when it's done," said Lee.

For now, Lee is staying put.

As for Simon, he's accused of burglary, grand theft and trespassing. He's free on bail. He has not been formally charged.