PEARLAND, Texas – Law enforcement agencies all over the Greater Houston Area are going after a man accused of renting houses that he doesn’t own to unsuspecting victims.
Kenneth Upchurch is free on bond on a charge of deception out of Pearland. Dozens of other cases are being investigated in Brazoria, Fort Bend, Harris and Galveston counties.
Investigators said Upchurch duped potential renters by taking their rent money up front.
Kristy George was eight months pregnant and she needed something fast when she leased a house from Upchurch’s company.
"They had us meet with a realtor. He showed us a few houses and we picked one," she remembered.
George and her family moved into the house in Pearland and spent thousands of dollars on repairs.
"We did the whole AC, the wooden floors, put carpet in the home, did a lot," George said.
The new mother was shocked to learn that she’d been scammed.
"The police surrounded the home at 11 at night while we were having a slumber party for my niece," George said. "They told us that we did not belong in there."
George had a 16-page lease and had lived in the house for several weeks, but it turned out Upchurch never owned it.
George was forced to move out of the home she hoped to buy someday. She is now living with relatives in Channelview.
Investigators say George is just one of many victims.
They believe Upchurch, or one of his associates with Homeowner Solutions Inc., broke into foreclosed homes and change the locks.
Next, they would lure potential renters with online advertisements.
"He is posing as a real estate agent, plus he is coming up with fictitious contracts so that the victims believe that they are actually leasing a home. He does not have the authority to do that," explained Detective John DeSpain with the Pearland Police Department.
At least three middlemen picked up the money and showed houses, with the scam netting tens of thousands of a month, investigators say.
Police says there are potentially hundreds of victims including some who may be renting homes they don’t belong in right now.
Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Detectives say they having been investigating Upchurch for a year. They are planning to file a master indictment with 73 cases charges including organized crime, deception, burglary of a habitation and burglary of a building.
If you have any doubts about your lease or are being forced to pay your landlord in cash, you should contact your local police department.