When a scam comes home: St. John’s man spots a suspicious rental ad for his mother’s house

As competition swirls for rental accommodations in the St. John’s metro area, potential tenants like Ronnie Gosse are facing online rental scams. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

Ronnie Gosse, a construction demolition supervisor who lives in St. John’s, has been looking for an apartment since last Christmas. During this search, he stayed at his mother’s house in the center of town.

So Gosse was quite surprised when he spotted an online rental ad for that same house.

“She doesn’t have an apartment to rent. She only has a two-bedroom house,” Gosse said. “And I know she doesn’t rent to anyone. »

Gosse decided to contact the person who posted the ad.

“I was leading him around a bit, just to see what he would say,” Gosse said. “And then immediately, he asked me for a deposit on the spot. He said, ‘I can save it for you today,'” Gosse said.

At this point, Gosse revealed that he knew the rental ad showed his mother’s house. In response, Gosse said, the person immediately blocked him on Facebook.

Gosse said he called the RNC about the announcement. An officer said Gosse’s case would be added to an ongoing rental listing investigation, according to Gosse.

Given the current demand for rental housing in the metro area, Gosse fears that more people may be vulnerable to this type of program.

“It’s scary because, you know, trustworthy people would go ahead and put down a deposit without even seeing or seeing the apartment or the house,” Gosse said.

“They could lose their money and have to start all over again. »

Bidding wars, rent hikes and more

Gosse searched high and low for an apartment of his own. And as a construction demolition supervisor, he has more money to play with than some who struggle to find housing; Gosse said he was willing to pay up to $1,700 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.

Still, Gosse doesn’t find many rental options in the metro area. And in many cases, he said he thinks landlords are asking too much of potential tenants.

“I know a place was looking for a credit check and I mean, that’s fine,” Gosse said.

A close up of Ronnie Gosse's face.  He stands in a room with gray walls and dark blue cupboards.
Ronnie Gosse has been looking for housing in the St. John’s metro area since last December. (Submitted by Ronnie Gosse)

“But then they asked me for my social insurance number. And you and I know that the only people who should have your social insurance number are the government or your employer for tax purposes,” Gosse said.

Another potential owner said she would come in for monthly inspections without notice, according to Gosse. This goes against the Residential Tenancies Act, which states that landlords must give tenants at least 24 hours written notice before entering rental properties.

Then there’s what Gosse calls the apartment “bidding wars.” He said that in some cases landlords don’t set rental prices in advance. Instead, Gosse said, landlords ask potential tenants what they would choose to pay.

“I think that’s what’s causing some of the increases in rent prices,” Gosse said, mentioning seeing a “pretty rundown” basement apartment costing $2,000 a month plus utilities.

Scams, rising rents linked to limited housing supply

Sherwin Flight has operated the Newfoundland Tenant and Landlord Support Group on Facebook for nearly a decade. He said the housing situation had become much more difficult over the past year – and he said the lack of housing supply was his main concern.

“Number 2 would probably be affordability,” Flight added. “Affordability has always been an issue for some people. But unfortunately, when the supply of rental accommodation decreases, the cost of those that are available tends to increase. »

Sherwin Flight stands in front of a snowdrift.  He wears a blue baseball cap and a black winter coat.
Sherwin Flight is the administrator of a Facebook group dedicated to tenants and owners. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Flight said the dwindling supply of rental housing is also likely leading to an increase in scams.

“We see a lot of questions in our group where people say, ‘I saw this ad online and they want me to send a deposit,'” Flight said.

“It’s always a big red flag if someone wants money before they’ve even seen the place. »

Flight also warned of an increase in rental listings featuring property listing photos and descriptions. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Flight said.

Flight would like to see tougher penalties for landlords and tenants who violate the rules of the province’s Residential Tenancies Act. He would also like to see more non-profit and social housing. But ultimately, he suggests that this problem might have a fairly simple solution.

“To improve the housing situation, I think we just need more housing,” Flight said. “I really think it’s a supply issue. »

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