Six Toronto apartment rental companies demanded cash or sought potential renters' personal information during the application process, a hidden camera investigation by Radio-Canada reveals.
During its investigation, Radio-Canada visited 10 apartment buildings across the city that are managed by different real estate companies, and found more than half violated provincial tenancy laws in some way.
In four cases, real estate companies asked for payments ranging from $200 to $3,000 — the higher figure being the equivalent of first and last month's rent — just to provide a rental application form.
One superintendent at a Parkdale-area apartment building, run by Oberon Development Corp., was caught on camera asking for a $500 cash deposit for the form and warning a Radio-Canada reporter that the deposit would be lost if the application isn't completed in several days. This was the only instance of someone requesting the deposit in cash.
When confronted by the reporter, the superintendent said "that's what we do here," and directed further questions to building management.
Both Radio-Canada and CBC Toronto have attempted to contact Oberon, but have received no response.
The apparent pressure tactics are happening as the condo apartment vacancy rate sits at just one per cent in Toronto, the lowest it has been in seven years, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
"People are desperate. And they will do almost anything if it helps them get a place to live — and that leaves them very vulnerable," said Kenneth Hale, the legal director of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.
And make no mistake, he said, there are landlords out there trying to take advantage of the situation.
'It's so obviously wrong'
Lawyer Dean Adema says companies cannot ask tenants for money just to apply for an apartment, nor seek the first and last month's rent until an agreement is reached. He said in his experience, most rental companies will drop the demands as soon as they receive a stern letter from a lawyer.
"It's so obviously wrong," he said.
Radio-Canada also found companies that said they had multiple people interested in landing a vacant apartment, but offered to block others from seeing it in exchange for a deposit.
Two other companies, meanwhile, threatened to keep the deposit if the application form wasn't returned within a few days. And three asked applicants to provide their social insurance numbers, which isn't necessary in Ontario.
Tenants taking risks
Geordie Dent, the executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Association (FMTA), said more and more people are finding themselves in a difficult bind. Those who decline to provide landlords with sensitive information like social insurance numbers risk losing the place.
"The problem with that is that, yes, you have protected your rights, but you do not have an apartment," Dent said.
The FMTA advises people looking for an apartment to know their rights in advance.