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Housing scams: awareness and prevention

Housing scams are common in Toronto, particularly through online property listing sites such as Kijiji. This does not mean that all online listings are scams, but you should be prepared to be critical of any ad that sounds too good to be true. We strongly encourage you to view every apartment before agreeing to pay any money or sign the lease.

If you live too far from Toronto to commute in for a viewing, you have a few options:

  1. Have a trusted person check out the unit for you. If you know someone who is able to do the viewings on your behalf, take photos and ask questions to the landlord, then you may not need to see the unit yourself.

  2. Prepare for a short-term stay in Toronto to find a place. This could involve coming to Toronto a week or two before your intended move-in date, staying in a hotel or hostel (you can find one in this list of temporary accommodations), arranging and attending viewings for multiple apartments in-person before agreeing to sign a lease.

  3. Work with a realtor. As a renter, you can use a realtor's services for free; they are paid by the landlord. A realtor can help you find places that suit your intended number of bedrooms, location, and budget. They can send you legitimate property listings including photos and floor layouts to enable you to make an informed decision. 

    If you have a personal budget of $1,400/month or have multiple roommates with a rental budget of at least $1,000/month per person, working with a realtor may be a good option for you.

    Please note you should have your rental application documents prepared before connecting with a realtor, as they will require you have them ready before sending you any listings.

    For a realtor referral, email: offcamp@ryerson.ca

TIPS


Keep your guard up

If an apartment seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If you see a posting that features perfect photos staged with beautiful furniture for a price that is significantly low with all utilities included and it’s only a 5-minute walk to Ryerson, this is likely a scam.

Most apartments do not include hydro or internet, and landlords generally do not spend a lot of time or effort on rental photos, nor are they in the business of offering low rental rates. Understanding Toronto’s competitive and expensive housing market means you will be less likely to be scammed.

Assess for suspicious activity

Prior to contacting the landlord, make sure to google the apartment address and landlord name and email to see if there are any reports of scams connected with either.

If the apartment address is not valid, or shows another building (such as a University residence or office building), it is likely a scam.

If the landlord’s name or email appears in reports of scams, do not contact them. If you realize that you are communicating with a scammer, stop communicating with them and you can report the housing fraud.

Pay attention to communication

Real landlords want to get their place rented.

If you reach out about a posting, a legitimate landlord will likely reply with some dates and times they are available to have you come view the apartment and very little other information.

If you receive a reply with long paragraphs of text selling you on the features of the apartment and reasons to pay money up front, but excuses for why you can’t come see the place, stay away.

Keep your cash close

Never send any money before the moment you are signing the lease—this is how the majority of scams work.

Scammers often say they are out of town but have a friend/sibling/child who can let you see the place if you just send a few hundred dollars by email money transfer to cover your deposit/first month's rent/etc.

Some scammers even use legitimate websites like AirBnB to conduct illegal transactions. If you ever are uncertain if you are getting involved in a scam, please contact us at offcamp@ryerson.ca.

Understand your rights

Toronto landlords cannot legally request an application fee or deposit to “hold the unit” for you, nor can they legally ask for “security deposits” or “damage deposits”.

Toronto landlords may only ask for first and last month’s rent (which may be referred to as a “deposit” but can only be applied to rent), and a refundable key deposit only in the amount it would cost to replace the key.

You should only pay any money at the time you are signing the lease, after you have viewed the unit.

Get proof

Ask the person you are communicating with to provide proof of ownership (should be an official legal document) for the specific unit at the address listed.

Verify from previous tenants

Ask for contact information of previous tenants and get in touch with them to hear about their experience.

Make sure to ask questions like:

  • How long did they live there?
  • Why did they move out?
  • Did they have any issues with the landlord?
  • What was responsiveness like for issues of maintenance and repair?


This does take the risk of the landlord providing you with a false previous tenant contact, but you will likely get a sense whether you’re talking with a real tenant or if it’s part of the scam.

See the unit in person!

We can’t emphasize enough how important it is for you to go view the apartment before you sign a lease. Often scams will advertise great looking photos for a location that doesn't even exist!

Bring a friend and make sure to check out the surrounding neighbourhood in daytime and nighttime conditions to make sure you feel safe and comfortable in the unit and the local area.

Common housing scam scenarios

Housing scams vary but here are three of the more common scenarios:


Example 1 (The most common type of scam)

A scammer poses as a landlord on websites such as Craigslist or Kijiji. When you contact them, they reply that they are out of the country and require a deposit on the rental apartment to “hold” the apartment for you. Once the money is paid, usually through a money transfer, the new tenant discovers there isn't actually a rental home available, and their money is lost.

How to avoid this: never pay any money until you have seen the unit, verified the ownership of the unit, and are signing the lease.  

Real landlords want to get their place rented—they will likely send you a simple email arranging a time to view the unit. If the “landlord” makes excuses for why you can't come see the unit, or asks you to send money in advance, this is likely a scam. If you are concerned a posting is a scam, you can email it to offcamp@ryerson.ca and we can review it with you.

Remember: Toronto landlords cannot ask for an application fee or a security/damage deposit; they can ask for first and last month's rent, as well as a key deposit only in the amount it would cost to replace the key but you should only be paying this after you have seen the unit and are signing the lease. Be sure to get the key at the time you are exchanging money and test the key in the door immediately.  


Example 2

A scammer has somehow obtained access to a property or place. They pose as a landlord / property manager and show the victim the property. They then request an immediate payment to secure the property and inform the victim they can sign the lease and move in at a later date. On the move-in date, the victim arrives only to discover that the unit was not actually available for rent. 

How to avoid this: always research the unit address and landlord name/email before arranging a viewing. Make sure to verify ownership of the unit and ask for previous tenants’ contact information. When you are ready to sign a lease, be sure to get the key at the time you are exchanging money and test the key in the door immediately.  


Example 3

A scammer poses as a tenant and responds to internet advertisements for rental apartments. The suspect contacts the landlord by email only. The "tenant" advises they are currently out of the province, but they will send a cheque or bank draft as a deposit to secure the rental. The cheque will be more than the agreed-upon amount, and the "tenant" will direct the landlord to send the excess money to a third party. After depositing the cheque, the victim will be notified by their bank that the cheque they deposited was worthless and the landlord will be responsible to the bank for the money.

How to avoid this: if you are a landlord, have potential tenants view the unit in person before agreeing to lease it to them. Get a money order (rather than personal cheque) in the exact amount owed for first and last month’s rent. Do not agree to get involved with receiving funds not owed and becoming liable for scammers’ void cheques.

 

Our thanks to the University of Toronto for their scam examples which we have adapted here.