Unfortunately, rental housing scams are real and can happen to an unsuspecting renter. Here are our best tips to help you avoid getting scammed!
Common rental housing scams
- Phantom rentals
An ad for a place that does not exist or is not for rent. Their goal is to get your money before you find out. A good reason to see before you sign!
- Hijacked ad
A scammer posing as a landlord posts an ad for a real place, with altered contact information. Perform a search on the owner and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that's a clue it may be a scam.
- Already rented
A landlord uses an ad to collect deposits or application fees for a place already rented. Always Google a property’s address as a start to your review process, and ensure you view the unit, sign the lease and are receiving the keys before handing over any money.
- Missing amenities
An ad for a real place that lists amenities it does not have in order to price the unit higher. If you cannot visit a unit yourself, ask a rental agent or someone you trust to go and confirm that it includes what was advertised.
The landlord tries to get you to sign a lease or collect a deposit for a different property than the one advertised. If they offer up another unit, be sure to go through the same process to verify the legitimacy of the unit and the landlord.
- Suspicious money requests
You are asked to send money when you haven’t seen the apartment or met anyone. You are asked to pay an illegal security or holding deposit, a full year’s worth of rent, or other upfront fees. It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you are asked to wire money, that is a sure sign of a scam. Landlords can only legally ask for last month’s rent and a refundable key deposit, to be collected at the time of signing the lease. No other fees are legal: no application fees, holding fees, damage or security deposits, cleaning fees, pet deposits, etc.
- Identity theft
An ad that is really a trick to get you to hand over confidential info such as a Social Insurance Number (SIN) or banking information. Be protective of your personal information and only provide what is required by law.
Protect yourself from scams
- Never deal in cash.
Never pay with cash, wire transfer or hard-to-trace equivalents such as Moneygram, Bitcoin, or MoneyPak. These forms of payment are impossible to track. You can use bank cheques or money orders, or email money transfer, but only when you are certain of the legitimacy of your rental arrangement. Landlords can only legally ask for last month’s rent and a refundable key deposit, that you should only pay at the time of signing the lease. No other fees are legal: no application fees, holding fees, damage or security deposits, cleaning fees, pet deposits, etc. Once you have paid any money, you should always ask for a rent receipt (PDF).
- Never rent sight-unseen.
Visit in person to confirm the unit exists and matches what was advertised before signing a lease or making any payments. If you can’t visit in person, have a family, friend or realtor do so on your behalf, or request a live virtual viewing. Although there are cases where a scammer has access to a unit and poses as landlord, insisting on viewing the unit will reduce the chance of a scam. We encourage you to take our Apartment Viewing Checklist (PDF) and Landlord Q&A (PDF) to any viewing, and to trust your gut if something seems off.
- Don’t provide confidential info that can be used for identity theft.
Avoid handing over confidential information like your Social Insurance Number (SIN) or bank information. Landlords sometimes ask for a SIN to do a credit check, but you are not legally required to submit this. Alternatively, according to Equifax, a Canadian Credit Bureau, a landlord can check your credit history with just your full name, current address and birth date.
It may be easiest to get your own credit score and credit report to provide with your other rental application documents. Not only will this give you control over who has access to your credit report, it may also help demonstrate that you are responsible and enable you to move more quickly through the rental application process.
- Meet the landlord in person.
Though out-of-town landlords can be legitimate, insisting on meeting the landlord in person will reduce the risk of a scam and usually leads to better service. Be wary of a landlord that gives excuses for not being able to meet you or show you the unit—why would someone be trying to rent out their unit and then leave town?
- Speak with the current tenants.
Currently occupied units are far less likely to be fraudulent. If you have a chance, speak to the current tenants outside of the presence of the landlord to confirm information the landlord has told you. This also allows you to find out how the landlord treats tenants and whether there’s anything unusual about the place.
- Conduct basic research.
Google the address of the unit and the landlord’s name, email, and phone number to confirm that the landlord/company exists, is associated with the property being listed, and whether there are any complaints or scams online. Be wary of any landlord who tries to remain anonymous.
- Be aware of too-good-to-be-true rent rates.
The Toronto rental market is extremely competitive, especially for rentals beginning September 1. Be suspicious of any rent or unit that is far below market rent or otherwise sounds too good to be true.
- Be wary of high-pressure sales tactics.
If you feel like you are being pressured into signing a lease or sending money, consider this a red flag. Conduct thorough research on the property and landlord before committing.
- Be wary of landlords who request little info about you.
Most legitimate landlords will at least request references or a credit check.
- Demand a written lease.
A written lease helps prevent fraud and lays out the rights and responsibilities of both parties. Landlords are legally require to use the Ontario Standard Lease Form. If you are not given this form as your lease, you should ask for it. Ensure you get a copy of the lease that is signed by both you and the landlord before you move in or pay a deposit. Ideally, you and the landlord should sign the lease in each other’s physical presence and in duplicate so each can walk away with a copy. Ensure the price and any amenities that should be included as part of your monthly payment are listed in the lease. Always keep a digital copy of this for reference (you can email it to yourself)!
- Ensure the written lease identifies the owner or management company.
In Ontario, written leases must identify the name, address and phone number of the landlord. When reviewing the written lease, make sure that this information is disclosed and that the address listed is not the address of the rental unit (unless the landlord also lives there) or a P.O. box. It is best to get two forms of contact information for your landlord (phone and email), and email is an ideal way to communicate with your landlord as it provides a history of timestamped communication that is hard to alter.
- Consider renting from property management companies.
Large operations are not necessarily the best landlords (or the most affordable) but there is usually plenty of information and reviews online about them, and they are seldom outright scammers. If, for some reason, you must rent sight-unseen, a property management company is probably a safer choice. You should be able to easily verify that a company owns/operates a specific apartment building, unlike the individual owners of condos and houses.
What to do if you think you’ve been scammed
Prevention is always better than trying to recover from a scam after the fact. But if you have been scammed, here are some things we recommend you do.
Report the incident to one of the following:
- Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
- U of T Campus Safety
- Toronto Police Service or your local police service
Report the scam to the Housing team and include any other listing site(s) you found the ad on.
Contact Downtown Legal Services to see if they can help you take the scammer to court.
If you sent money by Western Union or Money Gram, those vendors’ customer service departments may be able to stop the transfer:
Visit the U of T Community Safety Office fraud prevention site for more information and resources.
- If you aren’t sure but think you might have been scammed
- If you were scammed and want to talk through what happened and your options
- If you need help finding other housing