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Cheap condos or cheap tricks?

Some Toronto accommodations listed on classified sites are too good to be true
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JULIEN BALBONTIN/THE VARSITY
JULIEN BALBONTIN/THE VARSITY

Moving away from home to attend school in Toronto can be an expensive endeavour. In some cases, this process can also be a dangerous one.

Tuition for domestic students at the University of Toronto runs upwards of $6,000 for Canadian students and as high as $35,000 for international students.

On top of that, the University of Toronto estimates that accommodations average between $7,000-14,000 per year for a slot in a campus residence or a one-bedroom apartment.

The university also recommends setting aside $1,200-2,400 for “miscellaneous” expenses — enough for a year’s worth of coffee, or 35-70 cases of domestic beer.

If students want to live in style, the cost is even more prohibitive. According to the Toronto Star, the average rent for a one-bedroom condominium in the downtown core is close to $1,800 per month, as of this past spring.

So finding the following deal on a classified site is a remarkable achievement: a two-bedroom condo near University Avenue and Dundas Street for $1,059 per month.

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE

The Varsity responded to the ad, acting as a prospective student tenant to investigate the post’s validity.

The renter says his name is David, and that he runs a pet store in London, UK. David claims that he inherited the apartment from his now deceased grandfather.

The rental arrangement is flexible — tenants can rent month-to-month, or sign a lease for up to six years.

According to the renter, the rent will never increase. “The price will not increase monthly. It will remain the same for the whole period that the contract will be signed for,” he says.

The deal gets even better: the price includes all utilities, water, electricity, gas, and cable and Internet.

While the renter does not specify the extent of the cable and Internet offerings, the cheapest Internet, television, and wireless package offered by Rogers starts at $65.47 per month before any taxes and additional fees.

The apartment also comes fully furnished, with a laundry list of amenities.

David says that the apartment includes standard items like a refrigerator, a stove, an oven, and includes access to a “juice machine, iron, toaster, coffee maker, microwave, [and] vacuum cleaner.”

Eventually, David says the apartment is ours.

“I have a good solution and you will have the keys in hands, in less than 48 hours. I’m the only person who has the keys and I found a way to complete this rental safe, fast for both of us,” David says.

An email sent to David’s email address a few days after was not delivered, with a message saying the email no longer exists.

David’s listing was not alone. A Varsity investigation found multiple other questionable listings, with promises of lavish accommodations for cheap.

ONLINE CLASSIFIEDS

Coming across fraudulent advertisements is a reality of using online classified sites like Kijiji and Craigslist. Kijiji says that not all of the site’s 65 million advertisements a year are reviewed before they go live. At Craiglist, around 40 people are employed to oversee 80 million advertisements per month.

That is not to say that all advertisements for properties owned by landlords outside of Toronto are scams.

Patricia*, a graduate student at the University of Toronto who rents an apartment from a landlord based in China, says that the key is having a property manager in Toronto who can quickly respond to any rental issues.

Ava, a supervisor for Kijiji Community Support, says that the company is not able to publicly share details on the proportion of advertisements that are actually scams.

“Our number one concern… is keeping our user community safe,” Ava says.

“We do so both by employing a full time Trust and Safety team, and by providing users with a comprehensive safety section in our Help desk section,” she adds.

Kijiji offers a number of tips for avoiding real estate scams, including exchanging funds in person, seeing a property before placing a deposit, and avoiding advertisements that ask for personal information via email.
Kijiji also advises renters to be realistic about property prices.

According to a recent survey conducted by the City of Toronto, the average monthly cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment in the centre of Toronto is approximately $1,475.

Apartment rent costs have risen about one-and-a-half times faster than inflation since 1990.