As you can imagine, from the title, this is about to be a rollercoaster of a story. You’d be right in making that assumption. To protect the subject of our story, we’ve changed the names of all the characters. Please read and share this so that we can bring awareness to these issues.
This is Sofia’s story.
An immigrant from Venezuela and now a custodial worker in Manhattan, Sofia came to NYC to make a better life for her and her family back home. In March of 2016, she found her new home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Little did she know, less than a month later, she’d be living a nightmare — one filled with thievery, Facebook videos, despair, and a house that was never truly owned by the “landlord.”
Tuesday, March 15th:
While searching for available housing in Brooklyn (which is a nightmare), Sofia came across a building with a vacant room in it. There’s already two roommates, one of which lived there for seven months and another who was a family member of the landlord. Sofia previously lived in a shelter, after moving to the US from Venezuela. So, when she stumbled across this room on Craigslist listed at $700/mo with no deposit, she jumped at it.
Saturday, March 19th:
On this day — Sofia was excited. She was all set to view the Craigslist apartment in which she’d inquired about. She was early to the viewing and ready to take a look at what would soon be her new home. Upon arrival, her eyes were met with a building that was still under construction. It was a red flag, but not something in which New Yorkers were unfamiliar with. Usually, so long as the livable parts are up to standard, residents can move into their new digs prior to it being finished. This scenario was no different.
Sofia watched the landlord pull up in front the building. He introduced himself as “Malice” (probably red flag number two). He said the spot was up for rent for $700/mo for the first month and $600/mo thereafter. She felt a little weary from all the tats and piercings, but let’s face it, it’s hard to find a millennial without these things, nowadays.
Sofia met Malice’s wife and the roommates already living in the building. They all seemed nice.
Tuesday, March 22nd:
After the landlord and his wife spent much of the weekend cleaning, they offered Sofia the chance to move in on Tuesday; but, now, they were saying she needed to pay a deposit ASAP. A little hesitant, she provided them $190 when she walked in. She was told that she wouldn’t receive the deposit back and that they had to make copies of the keys before turning them over to her. Sofia brought about half her stuff from the shelter and left the remaining stuff in storage.
Wednesday, March 23rd:
Her first day returning home to her new place — she waited outside until she was to receive the front door key. When the landlord showed up, he still didn't have it. So, he walked her to the back of the building where he effortlessly pushed the basement door open. No keys. No resistance. No nothing.
The story gets crazier.
Thursday, March 24th - Tuesday, April 5th:
During this time, Sofia was getting acclimated to her new place. There was only one problem — it was a madhouse 24/7. The music was always obnoxiously loud and people were coming in and out, smoking weed, drinking, and arguing ALL DAY.
Sofia responded by submitting a formal noise complaint to the landlord, to which she was met with a barrage of cursing and yelling in her direction. She was reduced to tears. This couldn’t be real life right now.
A couple days later, the landlord made her pay $800 for the rent and for the new locks (ones in which they should have taken care of). She paid the fee and upon turning the corner to go back to her room, she overheard the landlord and his friend “City” cracking jokes about her and saying “She’s such a fool — she was crying. We took her money.”
Wednesday, April 6th:
While getting ready for work, Malice sent Sofia a text saying he’s getting a new house and that he’ll need her to move there. She responded saying she’s all set up in the current house and wished to stay there, to which he replied, “No. New house.”
Later in the day, Malice and his wife came storming through the building banging on peoples’ doors and yelling “Get the f*ck out!”
This would be the last day they saw Malice.
Friday, April 15th:
After a few drinks with the girls, Sofia returned home to find chain locks on the front door. It was 11:30p. She walked to the corner and came back, praying she’d had a drink too many and walked up to the wrong house. Once realization set in, she noticed a sign on the front door which read, “For Sale by Owner.” She immediately called the landlord and was met with a voicemail. The missed call was followed up by a quick text which said: “Sofia, tomorrow you can come get your stuff.”
Saturday, April 16th:
Sofia waited in front of her house for the landlord to arrive. Instead of the man she’s been dealing with showing up, another one showed up and asked her what she was doing on the stoop. After explaining her situation a bit, the man said, he’s the real owner of the house and has been trying to sell it for a year but that Malice had been squatting in it for over a year, while it was under construction and he couldn’t get him out. He said the house was being repaired because it had been abandoned for 30 years and that over $30k worth of repairs needed to be done. There were liens and tickets levied all up and down the property.
The “real owner” suggested she not bother calling the police because — “They won’t be helpful.” He said he’d send out a guy to open the door the next day.
Sunday, April 17th:
Again, after waiting in front of the building, Sofia is met by a new person. A guy named “John.” He says he was sent by the real owner but has no keys to get in. When she mentions Malice’s name, John says “ He took all your money and now he’s satisfied.” He insisted she will never see him again.
They walked around the rear of the building and pushed open the basement door, which was still not locking correctly. To their surprise, everything was clean in the home and all the furniture had been removed. Immediately, panic set in and Sofia was scared to see what she’d find upstairs. Putting the fear behind her, she sprinted upstairs to find EVERYTHING missing. They took her jewelry, laptop, clean laundry (underwear included), makeup, and furniture. They even drank her wine. The only thing left behind was her dirty laundry. Everyone’s stuff was wiped out. Her roommate that had lived there for seven months had 15 pairs of Jordans stolen. He claimed that for seven months he had a good relationship with the landlord. He said “They were legit. Gas, good maintenance, high response time, all of that.”
Monday, April 18th:
After visiting the police station did nothing for her…Sofia took things into her own hands. She went back through her old text messages and found the one message where her landlord used his real name. She took to Facebook and threw his name in the search slot. To her surprise — she found him. To her even greater surprise, upon clicking on his page, she found a video of him on a bus, traveling somewhere. In the video stood him, wearing HER jewelry and cracking jokes about how he just got over on so many tenants, once again.
She cried for three days straight.
After sharing her story with the WYL team….
We were able to connect Sofia to the Public Advocates Division of the NYC Government. While they tried to assist her through the matter, they claimed that there just wasn’t too much they could do; but, they did keep the video evidence and her interview content to see if they could eventually conjure something up.
Being the fighter she is, Sofia refused to take this lying down. While she hasn’t been able to catch her perpetrator, she has been able to catch seven others who were posting similar scams on Craigslist.
Sitting down with Sofia was an eye-opening experience for me. I couldn’t believe what she'd went through. For all the mayhem that's ensued, Sofia's kept her head up and continues to oust people who are engaging in sheisty business tactics online. If there's one thing I can promise you -- this won’t be the last time you hear from her.