red flag

Signing with a new landlord? Look out for these red flags (and scams!)

Having a good landlord is just as important as finding the right apartment to rent. Your relationship with your landlord can make or break your experience at your rental! Most landlords are good people, but as in any industry there are always a few bad actors out there. So it’s important to know your rights and know the warning signs to look out for before signing a lease with a new landlord.  

Unfortunately, tenants also have to be careful to avoid rental scams that have become more and more prevalent over the last few years. These scams often happen on listing websites. Scammers will pose as landlords to gather your personal information or steal money. As a rule of thumb, never rent from anyone who doesn’t want to meet you in person.   

It’s important to be aware of the red flags that could indicate a bad landlord or scam and save yourself from issues in the future. This will help you make sure you’re renting from an honest, good-natured person or company so that you can enjoy your new apartment to the fullest. 


The landlord or property management company has terrible reviews online

If you are renting from a property management company, take some time to read the online reviews on Google or Facebook. Keep in mind that bad reviews can happen to even the best of companies from time to time. One bad review does not necessarily mean that you will have a bad experience with a rental company.  

But, if the company you are looking to rent from has multiple terrible reviews online, take this into consideration. It might be a sign to stay away. Or if you’re unsure, ask for references! Use your best judgment. 


The apartment is in poor condition – and when you ask about repairs, you don’t get much of an answer.

If the apartment you are viewing is in poor condition at the time of your showing, chances are it will stay that way. If they can’t take the time to clean up the apartment for something as important as a viewing, how likely are they to maintain the property after you move in?   

An exception to this is if the messy apartment you are viewing is tenant occupied, meaning there is someone still living there at the time of your showing. It may be that the person currently living there has just not cleaned up. 

Either way, be cautious of poor conditions – this is especially true if the landlord won’t give you a straight answer when it comes to questions about repairs and maintenance.  

For example, a tenant goes to view an apartment – there are some holes in the walls and one of the windows is broken. When asked about repairing these items, the landlord skirts around the question or doesn’t seem to think they need repairing. This would be a major red flag. 


They ask for deposits they aren’t allowed to request.

If your new landlord is asking you to pay deposits that they legally cannot request you to pay, this is a major red flag. They are likely either trying to take advantage of you, or lack an understanding of your rights as a tenant. Keep in mind that the laws around renting and deposits vary based on location.  

In Ontario, for example, a landlord can request a rent deposit for the last month of tenancy, commonly called last month’s rent. But security and damage deposits are not allowed. Another example is key deposits – a landlord may request a key deposit in Ontario, however the amount requested must not be more than the actual cost of replacing the keys. Keep in mind that special keys such as coded keys can be expensive.  


When it comes to any questions you have, they are evasive.

Strong communication is so important between landlords and tenants. If you are having trouble getting a clear answer to any of your questions, this is cause for concern. It’s important to be able to communicate any concerns or needs so that you can live comfortably.  

 If your potential new landlord is avoiding your questions, this could be a sign that they are either inexperienced and don’t understand the Residential Tenancies Act, or that they simply don’t really care. 


The landlord does not willingly provide their contact information.

It’s important to be able to contact your landlord directly. You need their contact information to get in touch with them. If they give you a hard time and don’t share this information willingly, this could be cause for concern. 


Scam Alert: The rent is too good to be true.

A two bedroom for $1000 a month in a sought-after neighbourhood? The chances of this being a real listing are unlikely. Do some research on the typical costs of rent in the neighbourhood. If the rent seems to be too good to be true, and the property is priced way below the market, this could indicate a potential rental scam and fraud.   

However, this isn’t always the case. Below-market rent doesn’t always mean fraud is happening, and could indicate a few other things – the landlord could be less knowledgeable about the market rates or there could be an issue with the property itself that makes it less desirable. The lesson here? Do your research. 


Scam Alert: They don’t have a screening process.

Whenever you apply for a rental, the landlord goes through a screening process to determine if you are a good fit for the property. This helps them to make sure that a tenant can afford the rent and is being truthful about their employment and other factors.   

Screening protects both the tenant and the landlord. It also protects the other tenants in the building! You want to rent from a landlord who is responsible and does things by the book. If a landlord has no screening process and is ready to approve you right away, without even submitting an application or proof of employment, this is probably a scam. They may be fraudsters who want to get you to pay your “rent deposit” as soon as possible so that they can take your money and disappear. On the other hand, if this doesn’t end up being a scam, then it is a sign that the landlord is very inexperienced, and you should still be concerned.  


Scam Alert: They won’t let you view the unit in person

Always, always, always view a unit in person before you rent it. Even if you are able to meet the landlord in person, don’t sign anything or pay any money until you have seen the property. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of showings online – virtual showings are now becoming more and more commonplace. However, unfortunately, scammers have taken advantage of this. Know that even under Ontario stay-at-home orders, rental showings are still allowed to take place so long as the proper health and safety precautions are followed. 

Some landlords or property managers may request that you do a virtual showing before seeing the unit in person. This is a good way to limit in-person contact and reduce the amount of showings. This is typically not a red flag and just means that the landlord is doing their best to be responsible and keep everyone safe in these challenging times. 


Scam Alert: They want you to pay before you’ve even seen a lease.

You should never pay rent or a deposit before you have seen a copy of the lease. This is a red flag and could even indicate the possibility of a scam. However, you should note that often the payment of last month’s rent occurs simultaneously with the lease signing. 

A very common rental scam involves someone posing as a landlord asking you to send them money online before signing a lease. If an online poster has asked you to wire them money, report the listing as fraudulent and cease all communication with the person in question. 


The Takeaway: Protect Yourself as a Renter

It’s important to be aware of all of the possible red flags to protect yourself as a renter. 

If you have a bad feeling that something is a scam, then stay away. Even if it doesn’t end up being a scam, then it is likely a sign that the landlord is inexperienced or careless. Don’t go through with anything you have a bad feeling about. 


Knowing your rights is the best way to keep yourself protected as a tenant. This will help you spot the bad landlords so that you can end up with a great one! Take a look at our guide to tenant’s rights in Ontario. 

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