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7 common rental scams and how to avoid them

Renting a home can be an exciting but stressful time. With fierce competition to find a new pad, renters need to make quick decisions and can sometimes get desperate. With a lot of money changing hands, it’s the prime opportunity for scammers to strike.

Here are seven common scams to be aware of when you’re finding and securing a new rental home.

  1. The rental ad is a duplicate or feels fishy
    Have you found a place you like but the photos and writeup feel like you’ve seen them before? Scammers will often copy and paste real rental ads, grab the photos, alter the details and lower the price below market value to attract victims.

    Avoid this by: Making sure you view the apartment before you put down any money, ideally in-person or through a detailed video call if needed. Be sure that the property you see matches the photos exactly. Watch for identical photos and writeups in different ads. Avoid listings that only show exterior photos. And if the listing or their messages have a lot of typos or they refer to you very formally as Sir or Madam, these are often red flags.
  2. The ‘landlord’ shows you the apartment but doesn’t own it
    What if your landlord isn’t the owner or property manager? Some scammers will take advantage of vacant homes by breaking in or stealing the key so they can show the home to unsuspecting renters. This will become disastrous when the real landlord shows up at your door.

    Avoid this by: Doing your research that the person renting the home is the property manager or owner. You can look up city records and search who owns the property. You can also phone the building manager and ask who is renting out the suite.
  3. It’s too good to be true
    People like a deal and scammers prey on that. They’ll create a rental ad that makes the place sound fantastic. They’ll be very flexible, offer luxurious amenities, say that they allow smoking and pets, let you move in early and list a really low price. If the landlord makes it too easy for you to live there, be careful.

    Avoid this by: Research nearby listings to see if the rent and amenities are comparable. When you view the property, be sure to check out all the amenities in the listing are as described.
  4. The scammer wants your bank info or money before you see the home
    One of the most common scams you may encounter, the ‘landlord’ may ask you to put down a cash deposit or pay an application fee before seeing the property. More often than not, it’ll just be a scammer trying to make a quick buck and they will likely ghost you once they receive the cash.

    Avoid this by: Visit the home to check the property and meet the landlord before you send a deposit or share any personal information.
  5. Realtor taking pictures of a house

  6. They request personal information that’s not legally required
    You need to share some personal information to sign a lease, but it’s important to know what information is not legally required. Scammers may exploit rental applications to steal people’s personal information, then use that data to commit fraud like unauthorized bank withdrawals.

    Two things you’ll never have to share with a landlord: your Social Insurance Number (SIN) and your credit card details. Neither are required to sign a lease. A landlord may want to prove your income by asking to see your T4 slip or bank statements as proof of funds, but there’s no need for them to retain this information.

    Avoid this by: Blur out your sensitive information on documents provided to support your application. When you submit an application online, do it through secure, encrypted channels.
  7. No lease agreement
    A common sign of a scam is when the landlord has no documents for you to sign to confirm your rental of their property. Verbal rental deals are extremely rare in Canada – and not recommended. Even month-to-month leases have an agreement to sign beforehand.

    If you don’t get a lease agreement in writing, this can lead to housing insecurity and exploitation. No lease makes it easy for the landlord to kick you out whenever they want. They could double sign the lease and force you to have a roommate or they may be trying to dodge government tax.

    Avoid this by: Verifying the landlord’s identity. Then insist on a written lease agreement (the Government of BC has a standard tenancy agreement). Read it thoroughly and ask questions if you’re unsure about any clauses. Make sure you’re clear on the amounts for rent and deposits, like damage deposit or pet deposit, plus all included and excluded amenities.
  8. Bait-and-switch
    In this scam, you see one property in person, then the landlord asks you to sign a lease for another property that’s less desirable. This scam preys on people who don’t pay attention to details and often happens under duress when a landlord is pressuring people to sign a lease quickly. Renters will sign a lease and not realise the address they are signing for is different, or the amenities of the ‘similar property’ are vastly different and not as nice. This often means the renter pays more rent for a subpar place.

    Avoid this by: Visit the address in person to make sure the listing is all correct. Study everything in the lease agreement, including the fine print and confirm that the amenities and rental amounts in the listing match the lease agreement and that the address and unit number are accurate. If a landlord offers to show you a property of a “similar style”, it’s best to politely decline.

For more on current scams or to report online fraud, visit the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Learn more about renting in BC at the BC Residential Tenancy Site and in the Residential Tenancy Act.

Stay alert, know your rights in BC and stay educated on how to spot a scam.

Rental search complete? Now protect yourself with insurance

Once you've navigated your rental property search with your newfound knowledge, why not consider purchasing renters insurance to protect you and your belongings when you move in?

BCAA Renters Insurance covers you and your belongings from loss or damage or in the event of a claim against you. Plus, we cover you for accidental damages or injuries you cause anywhere you go in the world. And if you have to leave your rental due to emergencies like fire or flood, additional living expenses are covered to give you time to find new accommodations in BC’s competitive rental market. Some exclusions and limitations apply, so we encourage you to read our policy wordings and reach out to one of our advisors if you have any questions.

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Happy home hunting!

*BCAA Member savings on insurance products are only available with Basic, Plus, or Premier Membership plans. For full details, please visit Home Insurance is sold through B.C.A.A. Holdings Ltd. dba BCAA Insurance Agency, a licensed insurance agency, and underwritten by BCAA Insurance Corporation.