Real estate fraud
- Lying on a mortgage application if you are buying a home (“mortgage fraud”);
- Engaging in a transaction intending to defraud someone who is in foreclosure, if you are a real estate investor (“foreclosure fraud”);
- Rental property fraud (through the crime of “rent skimming”);
- Knowingly submitting loan documents that are falsified.
Real estate fraud in California can often be prosecuted under Penal Code 487, California’s grand theft law. However, certain specific forms of real estate fraud such as foreclosure fraud, rent, and forging are prosecuted under specific California real estate fraud statutes, including Civil Code 2945.4 (foreclosure fraud), Civil Code 890 (rent skimming), and Penal Code 115 (recording forged deeds).
When real estate fraud is prosecuted under California Penal Code Section 487 as a ‘wobbler’. That means that it may be prosecuted either as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history, if any. For misdemeanor real estate fraud, the maximum sentence is one year in county jail and a fine of up to one $1,000. However, if it is prosecuted as a felony, the maximum term increases to 16 months, or two or three 3 years incarceration.
Moreover, if you are convicted of a felony under this or other California real estate fraud statutes, you may face an additional sentence of one to five years in prison if you defrauded someone out of more than $65,000.
Examples of Defenses Against Real Estate Fraud
Lack of fraudulent intent is often the case when someone does something in good faith but then is charged with fraud. Perhaps you were unsure or confused about the impact of your conduct. In such a case, lack of intent would be a significant legal defense.
Sometimes our firm argues that the client entered into the transaction with the consent of the property owner. People are often accused of real estate fraud in connection with someone else’s property. In such cases, the property owner often is an elderly person and the real estate fraud charges are accompanied by elder abuse charges. However, in many of these cases, the elderly property owner actually gave the defendant authorization to represent him/her in the transaction and then many have forgotten or become confused about the fact that he/she did so.