Making a bad situation worse: Lava evacuees are running into ren - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Making a bad situation worse: Lava evacuees are running into rental scams

Lava eruptions from a fissure in Leilani Estates as volcanic activity continues in the area. (Image: FEMA) Lava eruptions from a fissure in Leilani Estates as volcanic activity continues in the area. (Image: FEMA)
PUNA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Displaced by lava and desperate for housing, Leilani Estates residents are now running into rental scams: People putting fake rentals on the market to collect money for properties they don't even own.

For Leilani Estates evacuee and charter school leader, Susie Osbourne, life these days is a roller coaster.

After her charter school, Kua o Ka La, was threatened by lava, she then celebrated Friday's graduation. Hours later, she learned her home was destroyed.

She found a legitimate rental home outside of Hilo. But while looking, she stumbled on rental scammers.

"Triple heart break. It's just devastating and it makes me stop feeling sorry for myself and really look out for my community that I love so much," said Osbourne.

She said an advertisement on Craigslist showed an $800 per month Keaukaha beach house. Osbourne felt something looked suspicious so she double checked with the real estate agent, who said the home was for sale, but was not up for rent.

"They (the scammers) had just taken a picture of a house for sale and tried to scam a whole housing situation during this time of crisis," she said.

Osbourne avoided getting scammed, but heard other evacuees did get ripped off.

"The other people that have been facing this have been asked to wire money through Western Union and then they would be given the keys," she said.

State Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, who represents Puna, said the scams are making a bad situation worse.

"We already have a housing shortage and now it's been exacerbated by these scams because people are desperate," she said.

San Buenaventura said a non-profit task force called Disaster Assistance Recovery Team will ask the governor for executive orders to provide housing relief, including waiving the transient accommodations tax for short-term rentals to evacuees.

They also want him to sign a homeless ohana zone bill for Hawaii Island to speed up temporary housing.

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