Harvard professor accuses Fort Lauderdale short-term rental operator of deceptive advertising: lawsuit

Henry Lee Gates, an African American scholar, alleges Luxuri Management and its owner Jonathan Campau defrauded him out of $20K

From left: Henry Lee Gates Jr. and Johnathan Campau
From left: Henry Lee Gates Jr. and Johnathan Campau

A Fort Lauderdale-based short-term rental operator allegedly scammed $20,000 from a Harvard professor who is a leading scholar on African American studies, according to court documents in a recently concluded civil case.

Henry Lee Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, won a default judgment to recoup his money against Jonathan Campau and Luxuri Management, a company that markets South Florida homes for short-term rentals.

Michael Schlesinger, a Miami-based attorney representing Gates, said Campau promised to rent his client a luxurious house in Hollywood that turned out to be a dump when the professor and his family arrived for their vacation in late December 2017.

“It was a bait and switch,” Schlesinger said.” It is a horrible situation for a person to shell out a lot of money for a house that was nowhere near what was advertised.”

Campau did not respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment. According to the Broward County Circuit Court docket, Campau never responded to the lawsuit when it was filed in July. Five months later, the default judgment was entered against him and his company.

According to the complaint, a Gates relative was looking for a luxurious vacation home on Airbnb when she came across a listing posted by Campau. It was a waterfront property listed as a “Spanish Paradise,” but Gates didn’t like it.

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When Gates rejected that home, Campau showed the relative a Youtube video of another property he was allegedly marketing, the complaint states. The clip advertised the property as a “brand new, waterfront custom-designed, masterpiece in Hollywood golf estates. Every little detail completed to perfection,” according to the lawsuit. The rental also came with a personal chef who would cook one meal per day for the family.

Gates agreed to rent the house, but did not do so via Airbnb. Instead, he signed a short-term rental agreement with Luxuri Management on Nov. 27, 2017. The Harvard professor paid $20,000 to rent the property from Dec. 22, 2017 to the New Year.

When Gates and his family arrived at the house, they immediately encountered a host of problems with the property, the lawsuit states. For instance, the only pool lounge chair was completely destroyed and unusable, while other poolside furniture was rundown, dirty and stained. Gates alleges he had to rent three lounge chairs because Campau refused to replace the furniture or offer any meaningful solution. The Jacuzzi didn’t work either, according to the suit.

Inside the house, a portable air conditioner in one of the bedrooms was broken and the room was unbearably hot, making it impossible for anyone to sleep there, the lawsuit states. “Upon arrival at the property, the trash can in the kitchen was filthy and infested with insects,” the complaint alleges, adding that Campau wanted an additional $5,000 for the chef service after initially stating it was included in the $20,000.

By Dec. 23, 2017, just one day after Gates’ arrival, Campau admitted to the defects and offered to refund the full $20,000 if the family left the property, the lawsuit states. Gates found new accommodations and left on Christmas Eve. He did not receive the refund.

“Additionally, it was discovered that Campau falsely and deceptively held himself out as the property owner and as a result he had no legal right to contract with plaintiff,” the lawsuit states, adding that a realtor who really had the listing confirmed Campau didn’t own the home.

Schlesinger said South Florida has a growing cottage industry of individuals swindling out-of-towners with false advertising about short-term rentals. “What consumers are being shown and told on these websites is not accurate,” he said. “This is a fad to use home-sharing websites to commit fraud and theft.”