In California, real estate fraud and other "white collar crimes" often carry steep penalties and long jail/prison terms, and anyone accused of any form of real estate fraud should waste no time in obtaining the services of top defense attorneys with deep experience in this practice area.
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we have wide-ranging expertise that cover the numerous specific types of real estate fraud outlined in the California Penal Code and Civil Code. We also have extensive firsthand experience with these case-types and intricate knowledge of the inner workings of the local Los Angeles justice system.
Below, we present the basics on real estate fraud in California, to help clear up any confusion and to give you an idea of what to expect going forward:
What Is "Real Estate Fraud?"
California Penal Code Section 487, the statute dealing with grand theft, also applies to many forms of real estate fraud (since real estate is almost always valued over $950). However, forged deeds are covered under PC Section 115, foreclosure fraud in Civil Code Section 2945.4, and rent skimming under Civil Code Section 890. And besides these, there are many other types of real estate fraud as well, including elder fraud, antitrust fraud, certain forms of "house flipping," and more.
In general, we can say that "real estate fraud" is a catch-all term for any type of criminal fraud or misconduct relating to real estate transactions.
Types of Real Estate Fraud
While the full spectrum of real estate fraud case-types are too numerous to name, much less go into detail about, we list below the most common types of real estate fraud that occur in California:
- Mortgage Fraud: This includes things like equity skimming and taking out mortgages with a stolen identity. It can be done for profit or to illegally secure housing by misrepresenting your income to lenders.
- Foreclosure Fraud: There are a plethora of schemes used to take advantage of people who are facing foreclosure on their property, and because pending foreclosures are made public, it is easy for fraudsters to access the necessary information. Often, a "fee" is collected to prevent foreclosure, but no services are rendered. In other cases, the property is signed over to the fraudster on false pretenses.
- Rent Skimming: This is when a rent collector embezzles the rent money paid by tenants, who can end up evicted for "not paying their rent." It can also involve failing the owner of the rental property not applying rents received to the mortgage or pretending to be the property owner when you are not. In cases where medical expenses or violations of "habitability" laws require immediate use of funds, there is an exception clause, however.
- Property Flipping: While simply buying/selling properties quickly to make a profit is called "property flipping" and is legitimate, there are certain types of fraud that sometimes accompany this practice. The resale price may be greatly inflated, based on false appraisals. The bank and a property buyer can then be defrauded of funds.
- Forgery: The forging of deeds or other public real estate records and the recording of the forged documents in a county clerk's office are both forms of real estate fraud.
- Antitrust Fraud: Antitrust fraud refers to the collusion of two or more persons so as to thwart true competition in the real estate market. Normally, real estate agents are charged with this particular type of real estate fraud.
- Elder Fraud: The elderly are often the victims of real estate fraud schemes, both because they often own properties and because they are often more vulnerable. There are severe penalties for this form of fraud.
Those charged with real estate fraud in California can be facing a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the details of the case and the defendant's past criminal history.
When filed as a misdemeanor, real estate fraud is punishable by:
- Up to a year in county jail
- A fine of up to $1,000
When filed as a felony, punishments include:
- 16 months to 3 years in state prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
But for felony convictions where the amount taken by fraud exceeded $65,000, prison terms range from 1 to 5 years.
And, in all cases, full restitution must be made to the victims of the fraud.
Elements of the Crime
To convict you on charges of real estate fraud, considered a form of "theft by false pretenses," the prosecution must demonstrate the following elements of the crime beyond all reasonable doubt:
- You gave false or misleading information to another, often the property owner, concerning a piece of real estate.
- You did this knowing that the information was false or misleading.
- Your intent was to lead the other person to act in a way harmful to his best interests and so as to wrongfully take a piece of property and thereby benefit.
- The victim acted on your false representation when he/she agreed to a real estate transaction.
Some of the most common defense strategies we employ against the charge of real estate fraud at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney include the following:
- Lack of fraudulent intent. You didn't realize the information you delivered was false/misleading and had not intent to deceive or defraud.
- You had the consent of the property owner. Sometimes, an elderly person will forget that he/she gave consent to another person to represent him in a real estate transaction. You have had consent and genuinely endeavored to help the property owner.
- False accusations. The accusations are simply false. It may be someone else was to blame but he/she is shifting the blame to you to escape liability.
Contact Us Today for Help
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we stand ready to assist you in fighting any and all varieties of real estate fraud charges. We have a long track record of winning the best possible outcome to even the most difficult cases.
To learn more or for a free legal consultation, call us anytime 24/7 at 424-333-0943.