Rentals Gone Bad: How a Palisadian Club is Haunting a Serial Scam Artist

By JOHN HARLOW | Editor-in-Chief

The three women who are sitting in my office at the Palisadian-Post are as loud and colorful as exotic birds—indignant, enraged and, most of all, focused on bringing a woman who has worked in the local beauty industry and caused them injury over the years to justice.

They are a club, who came together when court papers from Santa Monica and elsewhere revealed they had all been defrauded and threatened by the same woman—and they are not taking the insult and financial loss sitting down.

Unusually, I am not naming the women. By mutual agreement, we are calling them “Bette,” “Diane” and “Goldie” after the (largely Palisadian) actresses in the 1996 movie “The First Wives Club.”

Because of that, we are not naming the alleged scammer, although we have looked up court papers that confirm some of the horrors recounted by the club—we are using the name “Sarah,” after the movie’s manipulative nemesis played by Sarah Jessica Parker.

The stories the club told are almost as dark as that movie plot—and a warning to anyone needing to rent out a room to a stranger in Pacific Palisades.

Let’s go back to 2011 when bejeweled Bette rented out an $800-per-month room to Sarah, only to bump into her the next day, naked and shouting in the shared laundry room.

“I did not think I had to include a ‘no nudity’ clause in the deal,” Bette said, shaking her head remorsefully.

This was followed by a litany of horrors, including deliberately blocked toilets and kicked-down doors sadly familiar to Palisadians trying to stay in their homes by renting out a room.

In this case, though, tensions escalated when Sarah declared, “I am your worst nightmare,” claimed the home was breaking city codes and threatened to report her unless she got to stay rent free. It took 11 months to get her out.

Diane encountered Sarah on Craigslist in 2013 when she was looking for another room.

Diane offered her a $1,250 room, which Sarah snubbed in favor of a master suite once occupied by Diane’s daughter for about $200 per month more. Not that she paid up.

“She did not have a checking account, just paid in post office checks. The first $500 check then vanished from my desk, she blamed visitors—and then complained on Yelp how the Palisades post office would not refund a check in cash for her.

“She then claimed that the room’s balcony was too low, it broke city code, and tried to blackmail me for free rent. She took batteries out of a smoke detector, saying it was broken and illegal. She said the staircase was unsafe, that she might fall—so I warned my insurance company she was likely to report a ‘slip and fall.’

“Of course, she claimed she had injured herself—and she did have a big bruise on her leg, maybe from blood thinners—but by then, I had installed CCTV cameras that caught her leaping over bushes, so that did not play.”

In the summer of 2016, Sarah met Goldie, a famed comedienne who once declined to take her clothes off for Playboy—she does not put up with nonsense.

Sarah was charming and sweet at first, Goldie recalled. She was on Ambien, which might be why Goldie woke up one night to find her houseguest standing at the end of her bed staring at her.

“It was terrifying. She started cooking bacon in her [$1,100-per-month] room, broke the sink with bacon fat ($600 plumbing bill), which she denied, broke the washer-dryer machine ($1,200) and threatened to ‘end my life’” when Goldie tried to move her out.

“I offered to let her stay until this December, but she demanded another year. And she had the zoning code guide under her mattress—she knew how to blackmail renters with city infractions. So, I got her out by reporting her to the police for elder abuse.”

But Sarah did not leave happily—recycling an old John Carson gag, unfunny in real life: She hid uncooked fish in a wardrobe to stink up the place. She has done this elsewhere.

So where is Sarah now?

“She is probably in West LA, but she will be looking to scam another woman in the Palisades, we are the kind of target she likes,” Goldie said. “She is a serial scam artist who may have been guilty of serious violence in the past. We don’t want to use our names because she scares us—but we want to warn Palisadians she is out there. Watch out for her—a late, middle-aged woman in the Palisadian beauty business who does not have a checking account and is seeking a room in your home.”

And the lesson?

“She gave me five references but I never checked them out,” Diane said. “You can check out a criminal history for $5 online—do that, too. That is how we all connected, and now we are looking out for others in the same position.

“And do not be fooled by charm.”

For, no matter how wonderful these three ladies are, you do not want to be in their club. But you can reach them at landlordbeware@gmail.com.