Toronto’s rental market is extremely competitive, but for some renters who thought they’d be calling a detached house in North York home, it’s been a nightmare. They say one man has scammed over two dozen people out of thousands of dollars, collecting their rent money but not leaving them with a place to go.
“I start living at this house and from that day I see a bunch of people coming in asking for their room,” said Sohail Ouni, one of the residents living in the home. “They still show my room and say I’m going to leave soon, and I’m like I’m not going to leave soon.”
Ouni was one of the lucky ones who was able to move into his unit, but it didn’t come easy. He gave CityNews a tour of his room, which doubled as a storage unit, housing items of the previous person who was living there.
CityNews was at the home on Wednesday afternoon and evening, and a group of strangers who said they were victims of a rental fraud met, said they were scammed over $6,000 between six of them. Our cameras were also rolling when a student from Japan arrived with his luggage, only to find out someone else was already living in the room he paid $1,200 for.
Another student, who flew in from Calgary last Friday, said he paid $1,400 for first and last month’s rent. For days, Ishaq Ahmed said the landlord gave him the runaround, telling him more work needed to be done on his unit and was asked to stay at a hotel, which he would later be compensated for. He did just that, but grew weary and decided to visit the home. That’s when he learned he had been duped.
“I came here and I found all these people who have the same story as mine. They tell me they’ve all been scammed and the guy is no where to be found,” said Ahmed.
Most of the alleged victims were international students and visitors, who said they found the ad for the home on Kijiji and Facebook, and when they confronted the supposed landlord, he went MIA.
CityNews obtained the alleged landlord’s number and tried to call him on Wednesday, but his phone was turned off and his voicemail was full. Sources say the man isn’t the owner of the home, but has been leasing it since earlier this year.
One man said the alleged landlord gave him a cheque, returning the rent money he owed him. But when he cashed it, it was from an account that was closed. Gursher said he and his two roommates signed a contract with the man before they each handed over $1,500.
“Nobody thought it was going to be fake,” he said.
The alleged landlord also allowed some of the residence to take a photograph of his Canadian permanent resident card, which expires at the end of July.
Toronto police were called to the home on Wednesday after two complaints were filed. Police tell CityNews an investigation has now been launched after a crowd of people who gathered in front of the home said they were victims of a possible rental scam.
The Federation of Metro Tenants’ Association, a rental advocacy group, said rental frauds involving this many people are rare.
“We are seeing them more and more now because the rental housing market is hot, there’s a lot of people looking for places,” said Geordie Dent, the association’s executive director. “Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of regulations of apartments, landlords aren’t licensed — although they do have a new regulatory bylaw that does put certain education and information restrictions on them, which is good. But at the end of the day, unfortunately, anyone can pretend to be a landlord.”
Though some were able to find shelter elsewhere, others haven’t been so lucky. But all are just waiting for answers and hoping they get their money back.
“When you rent a place and you’re ready to move in, you have a dream, you have a vision and you have stuff to do,” said Aref, another renter who claims he was scammed. “You depend on getting the keys.”
Some of the victims were able to find alternate accommodations, staying with friends. But there are others who were invited in by the tenants to stay the night at the home; however, they are still in the process of finding shelter.