A Sidney real estate agent is warning people to take precautions when looking to rent a home in the Saanich Peninsula’s tight housing market.
Patrick Schorle of Pacifica Real Estate says he received a call by a client who has been looking for a place to rent. Schorle said the individual had been looking at online rental listings on Craigslist when they saw a house in North Saanich for rent.
They followed up on the listing but something about it just didn’t feel right.
“They figure that there was something wrong,” Schorle said, noting the house was also listed for sale.
When the client decided to contact the real estate agent who was listing the home, they discovered that the house was not being rented by its actual owners.
Schorle said this is a type of scam that occurs in tight real estate markets. Someone takes a photo of a house or condo that’s for sale and uses the description of the unit that’s typically available online in legitimate real estate postings.
Potential scammers then list the house for rent and can sometimes end up taking advance rent and damage deposit payments from unsuspecting people.
In this case, Schorle said his client discovered the alleged fraud and reported it to the RCMP.
Corporal Douglas Wilson of the Sidney North Saanich RCMP said police are investigating the alleged fraud. He said this sort of scam has been occurring in places like the Vancouver area, where housing is in demand. Scammers will use publicly-available real estate listings to create a fake rental property on online classified services. They can be pushy and ask for damage deposits and first and last months’ rent via an online payment service. In the local case, Wilson said the complainant was asked to pay through Western Union.
“That was a big clue that something was wrong,” Wilson said.
People’s best bet for avoiding the scam, Wilson continued, is to meet a renter face to face, inspect the rental property and if you are still suspicious, confirm the person is the owner of the property or employed by a legitimate property management firm.
As well, Wilson said do not pay for any rent or damage deposit with anything other than a cheque — that enables you to stop payment should the rental turn out to be a scam.
Schorle said people need to be aware of this type of scam, especially in a place like the Saanich Peninsula, where vacancy rates are very low.
“There are a lot of people looking for places to rent,” he said.