Fraud Prevention Tip – Landlord or Rental 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
- 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.
- 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.
For more information or to consult with a member of the University of Toronto Housing Services team contact firstname.lastname@example.org.