I Got Scammed on a $4,000 Apartment Search in Toronto and Here’s What I Wish I’d Known
This opinion piece is part of a Narcity Media Series. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Narcity Media.
Looking for an apartment to rent in Toronto could be one of the most stressful things to do in this city. I’m currently looking for a new place, and it’s been bidding war after war with no luck.
But, a major factor in my difficulties finding a new apartment in Toronto revolves around the fact that I fell victim to a condo rental scam.
In 2018 my roommate and I wanted to find a new home in the city. After searching the internet, we found a condo that ticked each of our boxes, so we obviously had to go.
It was cheap, new, downtown and had a locker and parking. It was too good to be true.
Spoiler alert! It was. And it turned out to be a scam.
We lost $4,100 in the process, along with any hope or will to find a new place. But the experience has taught me a lot, and here are some things I wish I had known:
1. Make sure you have a good view of the apartment
Images of the condo sent by the owner.
When looking for an apartment in Toronto, be sure to see it before bidding on it – physically check it.
In my case, I didn’t see the condo because the “owner” told us the building was still under construction and we weren’t allowed in yet, but he said the building should be finished by the time we moved in.
The building was located in the Entertainment District of Toronto, and at the time it was actually under construction because we often walked past it, so we believed it. But the rule of thumb here is not to rent an apartment without seeing it first.
2. Working with a real estate agent is not a scam
At the time, we thought using websites like Kijiji and Craigslist would give us the best value because we felt like real estate agents were taking your money.
The reality is that they don’t take anything from you. Realtors are paid directly by the owner, varying from case to case. But hiring a real estate agent means you won’t be scammed, as they can verify all the basic information for many condos in Toronto.
In other words, hire a real estate agent. It will reassure you, believe me.
3. Do not give the owner money in advance
Usually in bidding wars people try to give more money up front to secure a spot. This is not uncommon in Toronto. More recently, I heard people paying a year’s rent in advance. But there is a process to ensure that you will actually live in the condo.
In my case, I didn’t know anything about apartments, and I probably shouldn’t have done what I’m about to tell you.
When we were going to sign the lease, the landlord convinced us to pay it in cash to make it cheaper and not pay tax – But you don’t pay tax on the rent anyway, so that’s something something we should have known.
So we pulled out two months’ worth of rent, put it in an envelope, and headed to a Popeyes in Brampton to give him the money. I don’t know how I’m still alive, tbh.
PS I sent my live location to everyone I knew, just in case. But what was I thinking?
4. You can always find out if they really own the apartment
False act, covered for privacy and security.
I initially thought it was a pretty sketchy experience right off the bat.
He was too nice and no one was bidding on such a perfect condo in Toronto.
So I asked the owner to send me the deed. And he provided, but who am I to really understand an act? I had never seen one before, but he quickly sent me one.
I found out later that anyone can get this piece of paper, but it takes time for the city to approve it, which is when the deed becomes legit. It wasn’t legitimate.
5. You can find almost anything about a person online.
Looking back on that story, he knew exactly what he was doing when I tell you what else happened.
On the day we were to meet our landlord in Brampton to sign the contract, the landlord called me to tell me how our families were connected.
Yeah, it’s getting weird.
Somehow he knew where my father had worked in the past and told me that his stepfather was a colleague of my father.
When I called my relative to ask, he was so happy to know we were in safe and trusted hands, which kept me from looking into it further.
Keep in mind that I didn’t tell him anything about my family, but I guess a quick Google search might give someone some information to work with.
The lesson here is that anything can be found online these days, so be careful.
6. You might not get any money back
The day we moved in, my roommate attempted to contact the landlord to receive our unit keys, but his phone and email were disabled.
My roommate and her mother at the time came across a photo of the landlord online and immediately filed a complaint with the police.
A detective informed us that he was due in court to hand down his sentence after racking up 36 counts.
We weren’t the only tenants who fell for the scam and were told he pleaded guilty to the Crown and ended up going to jail.
After the victims made their statements, the Crown was “seeking the forfeiture of the money and if that happens it will be divided equally among all the plaintiffs.”
Unfortunately, no one got any money back, but we certainly learned a lot from this experience.
Eventually my roommate and I found another condo and had the best days there.
So everything went well and we weren’t homeless for long. But experience still gives me all the heebie-jeebies, especially for years, and the con man served time in jail.
Stay safe and careful out there, Toronto.