What is a Rental Scam?
A rental scam typically involves a scammer trying to steal money from a prospective tenant by for an apartment that the scammer is not in a legal position to rent.
Common Red Flags
There are several things that can tip you off to whether or not someone is trying to scam you. You should pay close attention to these red flags. A potential scammer may:
Ask you to send money without having met anyone or seen the apartment. One variation on this tactic may be a prospective renter claiming they are out of town and cannot show you the apartment, but insisting you pay a deposit and fees in order to “hold” the apartment for you. Never rent a property without seeing it for yourself.
Seem too eager to lease the apartment to you. A reputable renter will at the very least want to know your Credit Score (which can be obtained from Equifax Canada or TransUnion Canada. You should get your score from both. Most renters will also request that you verify that you are employed, which you can do by presenting your latest pay stub. You may also be asked to submit to a Criminal Background Check. If a renter doesn’t ask for any of these but is still willing to rent a unit to you you should be suspicious.
Ask you to pay an unusually high security deposit or too many upfront fees. A typical deposit is one month’s rent, though many legitimate rental companies are offering reduced deposits, discounts on your first month’s rent or other incentives in order to try and entice renters during the downturn.
Try to pressure you. Before you sign any paperwork you should ask if you can take it home and review it thoroughly before making a final decision. If you feel like the renter is trying to pressure you into signing documents or paying fees and deposits before you have decided to rent the unit you should be wary.
Tell you that you don’t need a lease. Though some apartments are rented on a month to month basis most rental agreements typically include a lease, at least for the first six months to one year. After your lease is up your renter may allow you to switch to renting month per month or request that you sign another lease. If the renter is acting suspicious and avoiding discussing a lease it may be because they don’t have the right to lease the property. Remember, a lease is designed to protect both you and the renter, so having one is beneficial to both parties.
If you feel uneasy, or you spot any of the red flags listed above, do not hand over any money to the renter and do not sign any paperwork. If you do not speak English fluently you can also enlist the help of a translator or interpreter through non profit organizations such as Immigrant Services Calgary. Make sure you thoroughly understand the document you are signing before you commit to anything.
What to do if you do get scammed
If you have been scammed you should contact the police to report the scam. You may do this in person at any police station or using their non emergency phone line: 403.266.1234. Reporting scammers not only help police to catch them, but also help protect other potential renters. The police will help you press charges, but you will need to sue the fraudulent renter on your own in order to recover any money you have lost.