Housing Scams and How to Spot Them
So, you are looking for a place to live and have heard stories about renters being scammed. We want your housing search to go smoothly, so we’ve put together a list of the most common rental scams (that we know about), tips to avoid them and what to do if you have been scammed.
7 Top Rental Housing Scams
#1 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!
#2 Hijacked Ads
A fake 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.
#3 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. It just might help. And the last thing you want is to show up on move-in day only to find out someone else lives there!
#4 Missing Amenities
An ad for a real place that lists amenities it does not have (to get a higher rent). 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.
#6 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.
#7 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.
So, now you’ve learned about the most popular types of scams. For ways to prevent yourself from being scammed, check out our 12 Tips for Preventing Scams!
12 Tips For Preventing Scams!
#1 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.
#2 Never rent sight-unseen
Visit in person to confirm the unit exists and matches what was advertised before signing a lease or making a payment (or have a friend, family member, or rental agent do so on your behalf). Though 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.
#3 Don’t hand over confidential info that can be used for identity theft
Avoid handing over confidential information like a SIN or bank information. Landlords sometimes ask for a SIN number to do a credit check—but according to Equifax, a Canadian Credit Bureau, a landlord can check your credit history with just your full name, current address and birth date (if you are willing to give them that info).
You may want to do a credit check yourself, and have your credit report ready as you begin your housing search (e.g. along with copy of references, previous landlords, etc.). This will not only 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.
#4 Meet the landlord in person
Though out-of-town landlords can be legitimate, insisting on meeting the landlord in person will lessen 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.
#5 Speak with the current tenants
Currently occupied units are far less likely to be fraudulent ones. 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.
#6 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 if there are any complaints or scams online. Be wary of any landlord who tries to remain anonymous.
#7 Be aware of too-good-to-be-true rent rates
The Toronto rental market is extremely competitive, especially in the summer. Be suspicious of any rent or unit that is far below market rent or otherwise sounds too good to be true.
#8 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.
#9 Be wary of landlords that request little info about you
Most legitimate landlords will at least request references or a credit check.
#10 Demand a written lease
- A written lease helps prevent fraud and lays out the rights and responsibilities of both parties.
- Ontario law requires landlords to use the Ontario Standard Lease Form for any lease signed after April 2018.
- 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.
#11 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 info is disclosed and that the address listed is not the address of the rental unit (unless the unit is in the landlord’s home) or a P.O. box.
#12 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 have to rent sight-unseen, a property management company is probably a safer choice.
Hopefully you feel a bit better about your ability to spot and prevent a rental scam. If you think you have been scammed, or you want to be proactive about you can do about it, check out “What to do if you have been scammed”.
What to do if you have 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:
- File a report with the police
- Report the scam to Housing (whether you found them through our site or not) and any other listing site(s) you found ad on
- Contact Downtown Legal Services to see if they can help you take the scammer to court
Speak with Housing Services staff:
- 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