Police and District Attorney Are Investigating Fraud Angle
The Vanguard learned late last week that as many as 100 students have been affected as WeHousing, an intermediary housing agency, appears to have failed to pay a month’s rent to property managers for apartments that students sublease from the agency.
According to the university, most of the those affected are international students from China. But little was known about the details. However, the university held a forum for affected students with representatives of property managers, Lisa Baker from Yolo County Housing, Lt. Paul Doroshov from the Davis Police, and Amanda Zambor from the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.
Leslie Kemp from the university told the group of 20 to 30 students who attended that the landlords are not looking to evict people. Rather, they are looking for a way to break the lease with WeHousing and make a deal directly with the students.
Lt. Doroshov told the Vanguard that the company has been in Davis for about two years or so and there didn’t appear to be problems. Rumors, however, have spread that WeHousing has closed their doors – various students reported that offices in both China and the East Bay are closed.
At this point the police and DA are unsure whether this is a situation where they simply went out of business or whether this would be fraud, where they were attempting to collect money for fraudulent purposes.
As stated above, the Vanguard was told that the landlords want to break the lease and then rent directly to the students. However, that would require they go through basically an eviction process, whereby the agency would be evicted.
Some have suggested that the students could pay money into an escrow account – however, Reid Youmans, one of the property owners, told the students that they had been advised by counsel not to put the money into a trust fund.
Chris Bresee, a post doc at UC Davis, just moved back to Davis in March.
Moving to Davis from Chicago, he found “what looked like a really great idea – a company that leases whole apartments and then subleases by the bed.” He added, “They had a very affordable price.”
Ironically, he said, given that he was across the country and unable to check out places physically, “I felt really nervous about fraud,” he said. “This company looked like it had a long history of being on the up and up.”
They were operating this business model across counties in California and even in several different states.
“It seemed fine,” he said, laughing ironically. Then he came home to the Octave Apartments and “found an eviction notice.”
From there he went to the management and inquired what was going on. He said, “(They) have been excellent. They’ve been really great.” He said, “Management has actually been really great through this whole thing. I’ve been assured that I do have a place to live and they’re not trying to kick us out.”
Mr. Bresee said, “I’m here because I don’t want to rip someone off – I want to pay someone rent. But I don’t know who to pay for next month.”
He said, “I don’t want to pay WeHousing because I don’t know if they’re going to pay the complex.” Moreover, he’s not able to legally pay the complex directly, because he doesn’t have a lease with them.
He said that he signed up through a website and they have a rent campaign online to pay the rent. He said he has emailed a person back and forth, but he has never been able to reach anyone on the phone.
Mr. Bresee told the Vanguard that he hasn’t been able to reach WeHousing since he received the eviction notice, but he has received an email from them trying to collect the next month’s rent.
The Vanguard also spoke to a fourth year Chinese international student, who told the Vanguard this is already a well known issue in China and has received media attention there.
This is her last quarter at UC Davis. “I just started contracting with WeHousing starting this winter quarter,” said the student, who did not want to provide a name. “I’m subleased from a group of exchange students from China. For me I don’t have to use a third party to get a house in Davis, but just because I (came) back for the winter quarter… I had limited choices.”
She said, “I was called into the office and received the eviction letter stating, we didn’t receive your payment for April’s rent. You have to pay the rent or be evicted.”
But the apartment complex, DaVinci Apartments, realized the leaser was WeHousing, not the individual student. At this point, both sides started to talk to attorneys to figure out their options.
Because this is her last quarter here, she told the Vanguard, “For me personally I might just give up my deposit (to pay the rent for April).”
She noted that the attorney fees for going forward would be higher than the deposit, so this is the more cost effective option for her personally.
She tried to contact WeHousing, “but was unable to.” Originally they contacted the company through WeChat, a social media based in China.
Reid Youmans, who is an owner of a number of apartments, told the Vanguard that they entered into a contract with Alan Gow, an intermediary for Chinese students, “because he was a Chinese national, we thought he could communicate for us.”
Mr. Youmans explained, “At some point, he has stopped paying us. We believe he is still collecting rent.” He added, “The police are involved making an investigation and that’s what we’re trying to facilitate.”
For those students living in his properties, he said, “We are hoping to look at ways to accommodate the students for the term of their lease.”
He added that for those students who have already paid for the year, “that’s something we’ll work out on an individual basis.”
Right now Lt. Doroshov told the students to put their names and contact information on a sheet and they would have Detective Tony Diaz contact them to investigate their complaints as a group.
UC Davis is asking affected students to email UC Davis’ Services for International Students and Scholars at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—David M. Greenwald reporting