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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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.