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Mira Nabulsi in Toronto. RIght: Toronto skyline.

Mira Nabulsi in Toronto. RIght: Toronto skyline.

This Opinion article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

Hunting for a Toronto apartment to rent might be one of the most stressful things to do in this city. I am currently looking for a new place, and it's been bidding war after war with absolutely no luck.

But, a big factor in my struggles of finding a new apartment in Toronto revolves around the fact that I was a victim of a condo rental scam.

Back in 2018, my roommate and I wanted to find a new home in the city. After searching the internet, we found a condo that checked every one of our boxes, so we obviously had to go for it.

It was cheap, new, in the downtown core and came with a locker and parking. It felt 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 taught me a lot, and here are some things I wish I had known:

1. Make sure you actually see the apartment

Images of the condo sent by the landlord.

Images of the condo sent by the landlord.

Mira Nabulsi | Narcity

When you are looking for an apartment in Toronto make sure to actually see it before bidding on it — physically check it out.

In my case, I didn't see the condo because the "landlord" told us that the building was still under construction and we weren't allowed to enter it just yet, but he said the building should be done by the time we moved in.

The building was located in the Entertainment District in Toronto, and at the time, it was, in fact, being built because we passed by it often, so we believed him. But the rule of thumb here is don't rent an apartment without seeing it first.

2. Working with a realtor is not a rip off

Email from the condo building.

Email from the condo building.

Mira Nabulsi | Narcity

Back then, we believed using websites like Kijiji and Craigslist would give us the best bang for our buck because we were under the impression that realtors take your money.

The reality is they don't take anything from you. Realtors get paid directly by the landlord, varying from case to case. But hiring a realtor means you won't get scammed because they can check all the background information of many condos in Toronto.

In other words, hire a realtor. It'll give you peace of mind, trust me.

3. Don't give the landlord cash upfront

Usually, in bidding wars, people try to give more money upfront to secure a place. This is not uncommon in Toronto. Most recently, I've heard people pay a year's rent upfront. But there is a process to ensure you're actually going to 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 him cash to make it cheaper and not pay tax — But you don't pay tax on rent anyways, so this is something we should've known.

So we took out two months' worth of rent, placed it in an envelope and made our way to a Popeyes in Brampton to give him the money. I don't know how I'm still alive, tbh.

P.S. 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 actually own the apartment

Fake deed, covered for privacy and safety.

Fake deed, covered for privacy and safety.

Mira Nabulsi | Narcity

Initially, I thought it was quite a sketchy experience from the start.

He was too nice and no one was bidding on such a perfect Toronto condo.

So I asked the landlord to send me the deed. And he provided, but who am I to actually understand a deed? I had never seen one before, but he quickly sent one over.

I found out later on that anyone can get this piece of paper, but it takes time for the city to approve it, which is when the deed becomes legitimate. This was not legit.

5. You can find almost anything about a person online

Looking back at this story, he knew exactly what he was doing when I tell you what else happened.

On the day we were supposed to be meeting our landlord in Brampton to sign the contract, the landlord gave me a call to tell me about how our families were connected.

Yes, it gets weird.

Somehow he knew where my father had worked in the past and told me his father-in-law was colleagues with my dad.

When I called my parent to ask, he got so happy knowing that we were in good and trusted hands, which stopped me from looking into him further.

Keep in mind that I did not tell him anything about my family, but I guess a quick google search can give a person some information to work with.

The lesson here is that anything can be found online nowadays, so be careful.

6. You might not get any money back

On our move-in day, my roommate tried to contact the landlord to receive our keys for the unit, but his phone and email were deactivated.

My roommate and her mother at the time came across a picture of the landlord online and immediately filed a police report.

A detective informed us that he was scheduled to appear in court for sentencing after racking up 36 charges.

We weren't the only tenants who fell for the scam and were told he entered a guilty plea to the Crown where he ended up going to prison.

After the victims gave in their statements, the Crown was "seeking forfeiture of the cash and if that happens, it will be dispersed equally among all of the complainants."

Unfortunately, no one got any money back, but we definitely learned a lot from this experience.

Eventually, my roommate and I found another condo and lived the best days there.

So, it all worked out, and we weren't homeless for long. But the experience still gives me all the heebie-jeebies, especially since it's been years, and the scammer has served his time in prison.

Stay safe and cautious out there, Toronto.

    Mira Nabulsi
    Toronto Associate Editor
    Mira Nabulsi is an Associate Editor for Narcity Canada’s Ontario Desk focused on cheap travel from Toronto and is based in Toronto, Ontario.
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