PORTSMOUTH -- Paula Jones says she's the victim of a rental house rip-off.
After seeing a "for rent" sign at a house at 1500 Effingham Street in Portsmouth, Jones inquired with the landlord.
She paid a total $1,250 to secure the place, even though she had not seen it on the inside.
The landlord, identifying herself as Sharon Wilson, said she couldn't see it until the rehab work was complete. It was weeks later before Jones would get the house key that initially didn't work.
"We did the deadbolt, the bottom lock and neither worked," explained Jones.
Two days later, Jones tried the key on what looked like a new lock and it opened. She said the inside was filled with filth and no signs of renovation. There was trash everywhere, used mattresses on the floors, cigarette lighters, a sex toy, holes in the ceiling, and profanity written on the walls. The scene made Jones break down and cry.
"I'm mad. I'm so angry. I'm so angry!"
The signs of a scheme were becoming all too clear. Two addresses written on the lease actually don't exist. An city inspection sheet Jones was given appears to be fabricated because the inspector's name "Emily Stokes" isn't listed as a city employee and Jones could no longer reach the landlord.
"I haven't seen her since," Jones said.
City records show 1500 Effingham Street was condemned back in April after being hit with a long list of code violations, including deteriorating walls, floors that needed to be replaced, holes in the drywall, and no running water or electricity.
"It was condemned. It was secured and placarded in accordance to our procedures and the law. Back in October, we received a call from police that someone had broken into the house or entered the structure. We had the structure re-secured," said Portsmouth Permits and Inspections Director Doug Smith.
It was around that time when Jones first noticed the "for rent" sign. Ty'Quan Williams is listed as the owner of the home, as well as the owner of a home across the street, that according to city records was sold in late October. That house, 1329 Effingham, was also condemned back in the spring and scheduled for demolition.
Williams did not return calls made by 13News. His address is listed as 1009 Green Street, which is actually a field located parallel to Effingham Street.
Meanwhile, Jones is hoping she can get her money back or least warn others to be careful.
"I'm mad as hell. I haven't heard of a scam like that."
Smith recommends would-be renters never pay a cash deposit without seeing the house from top to bottom. He adds, code violations can easily be accessed with just one phone call to the city. It's advice echoed by police who are now investigating this case as a fraud.