You’ve heard the stories on the news or from friends. The affordability crisis in the Toronto real estate and rental markets are making more people desperate to find a cheap place to live and that makes them vulnerable to scammers.
It’s a problem in hot real estate markets across Canada. According to one study by Vancity, 51 per cent of renters in Victoria and Metro Vancouver have come across a rental scam – even if they didn’t fall for it themselves.
People who are more likely to fall for a rental scam are those who are already vulnerable. The victims are often immigrants who don’t yet understand the Canadian rental market and practices, young students renting for the first time, or people looking for that perfect Hamilton condo or Toronto townhouse before they move to the city.
Not only do they end up losing thousands of dollars, but they also can often face financial difficulties and trouble finding another place since they no longer have the money they had saved for a deposit.
Want to know how to avoid rental scams? Here’s a list of the most common, and what you need to be wary of.
When a Landlord Can’t Show You the Place
In this scam, a landlord will say that they are out of town and can only show you pictures of the place. Often these types of scammers will specifically target people who are looking to rent before they officially move to a location. After all, its inconvenient to have to frantically search for an apartment as soon as you land in a new city. But the real reason these landlords can’t show you the suite because it’s likely not theirs. They steal pictures from other suites or from stock photos.
How do you avoid this scam? Run when a landlord says they want you to take the apartment without seeing it. Also, if you’re trying to rent before moving to a location, try to get someone to check out the apartment for you. If you don’t have someone who can do that, go with listings from a reputable real estate agent or wait until you land to find your perfect rental in person.
Too Good to Be True
You know the rental market well and you’re beyond frustrated that your rent budget can only get you a small studio. But then a listing in your price range appears for a two-bedroom with a view. It seems fishy, but the landlord explains that they just want someone great to rent the place. Approach with caution!
This is likely a scam. It can play out in a few ways. The most common is that they’ll show you the place in question, but they don’t actually own it and can’t rent it. There is also a variant of this scam where you arrive and find out a rental bidding war is going to take place, or that the suite was rented and you’re offered another place that’s not nearly as great. In the last two respects, it’s more of a time waster than anything else. You’ll want to avoid these types of listings for that reason.
The Casual or ‘Cool Guy’ Landlord
You arrive to check out the place and immediately the landlord says they have a great feeling about you and offer you the place without finding out more info about you or checking your references. They might even say that they don’t need you to fill out a rental application or sign a lease.
Reality check! There is a low vacancy rate in most Canadian rental markets which means that landlords are able to pick and choose the best tenants and most will want to avoid those with bad credit or whose references they haven’t checked. If they are immediately asking for a rental deposit and the first month’s rent, that could be because they’re a scammer.
Avoid these types of landlords or look into their story in order to confirm it checks out. This scam happens more often than you think with one prominent Toronto ‘cool guy landlord’ recently having turned himself in – but only after allegedly taking thousands from unsuspecting tenants.
They Want Cash or a Wire Transfer
Maybe everything seems normal, but the landlord is insisting on a cash or wire transfer for the deposit. Big red flag! Cash and wire transfers don’t have paper trails. If you give them an e-transfer, a check or a credit card there is a trail that can be followed in case they skip town. Avoid this scam by insisting on a payment method that won’t allow the landlord to take your money without any consequences.
The Current Tenant or Airbnb Guest
Just because someone has keys to a place and is showing it to you doesn’t mean they’re the legal owner or that they have a right to rent it. This scam is often the hardest to spot. After all, the description is accurate, the price is reasonable, and they seem to own the suite since they have access to it. They’ll likely ask you to fill out the forms and might even check your references before requesting a deposit.
The problem is that in this scam the landlord is either the current tenant or an Airbnb guest. Either way, both plan on skipping town with your money. How do you avoid falling prey to this scam? It’s a little harder. You can do an internet search on the suite and the landlord to see what you can find. If it’s listed on Airbnb, that’s a good tip off. You can also try to see who the building owner is by looking at property records if you’re suspicious.
When it comes to avoiding rental scams, the most important advice to remember is that if it seems too good to be true or fishy then it probably is. Rather than giving over your deposit and first month’s rent, try to confirm that what they’re telling you is true first. If you do become the victim of a scam, don’t beat yourself up. Scammers are inventive and the best of us fall prey to them.