Finding an affordable apartment in this housing market can certainly be a challenge. It was even more challenging for one viewer who reached out after she lost thousands to a man pretending to be a real estate agent.
“I didn’t think I was going to cry,” Sofía Mariscal said through tears of frustration, recounting how she and her family ended up without a home.
She said it all started last November when she and her boyfriend, Javier Aldana, were searching for a spacious apartment where they could raise their 1-year-old daughter.
“It’s just hard because, you know, we’re young parents, and the only thing we thought of was giving my daughter a room and having a place to live and being safe,” she said.
That’s when they were introduced to Saul Landaverde by a member of their church.
Landaverde told the young parents that he owned a renovated three-bedroom, one bath apartment in Lynn, Massachusetts. He said he could rent it to them for $2,200 a month.
“He told us that the apartment would be ready Dec. 1, which is when our lease would be over,” said Mariscal. “He gave us a full tour and then he told us, you know, ‘If you want the apartment, we need the money as soon as possible so I can take it off the market.’ And so, right away, we started collecting as much money as we can and working for it.”
The couple paid a total of $4,400 to Landaverde, but on moving day, Mariscal was left without a home.
“I called him to get the key, and he told me that the apartment had gone on fire,” she said.
They spent three nights at a hotel and are now staying with Mariscal’s mother.
“He took our money and does not want to return it,” she said.
On Jan. 18, Aldana filed a police report in Somerville and requested a stay-away order.
“I don’t know why I didn’t do this earlier, but I Googled his phone number,” Mariscal said. “That’s where I found his construction company, and that’s when I saw all the Yelp reviews of all the people he had scammed.”
She met with Egi Gjiakondi, the actual owner of the apartment she intended to rent.
“Saul has advertised my property for rent and has stolen deposits from prospective clients,” said Gjiakondi. “He was showing my apartment — pretty much stating that he was the landlord.”
Gjiakondi had hired Landaverde to renovate his entire triple-decker in Lynn.
“He came to my property in Lynn, and then gave me a quote for a three-family renovation,” he said. “I liked the quote that he gave me because it was a lot cheaper than other contractors that were calling me for the project.”
Gjiakondi tells NBC10 Boson the first unit renovation was a success, but things went south when he started working on the second unit.
“The project was way delayed. It was done like 60 days after the date that he promised he was going to get done. He started working on the third-floor apartment. Didn’t get much done there,” he said. “After communicating with him 45 days, he just kind of stopped responding.”
Gjiakondi says he is out tens of thousands of dollars.
“I had given him 100% for labor, and he had purchased all my materials. So, at that time, it was very hard for me to kind of fire him, because I know I was so deep in the hole with him, as far as him having all my money,” he said.
Back in January, Gjiakondi filed a larceny report against Landaverde with the Lynn Police Department. He also shared his frustration on social media, where he soon realized he was not alone.
“The reviews are definitely beneficial, because we found a lot of victims that were impacted that we didn’t know about,” he recalled.
“What we’re really fighting for is for him to just, you know, get caught, be in jail and pay for these consequences,” said Mariscal. “It’s not fair that he’s still doing this to people.”
Landaverde now faces larceny charges in Lynn, Somerville and Malden. He denied all charges in Lynn, but has yet to file a plea in the Somerville and Malden cases. He is now going through pre-trial hearings.
NBC10 Boston and Telmundo Nueva Inglaterra reached out to Landaverde and his attorneys several times for comment without a response until we knocked on his door.
His wife refused to open the door, instead opening her window to inform us that he wasn’t home.
Shortly after, one of his attorneys reached out and declined to comment.
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office reported having received at least six complaints against Landaverde and his construction company, SV Construction Corp., for incomplete home renovation projects and unpaid subcontractors.
We also found that Landaverde’s home improvement contractor’s license expired on July 15 with at least one active complaint.