Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

As students return to Victoria, rental scams and unaffordable rates await them

Rental scams and loss of scholarships among consequences plaguing students

Sarah Madsen
September 5, 2023
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

As students return to Victoria, rental scams and unaffordable rates await them

Rental scams and loss of scholarships among consequences plaguing students

Sarah Madsen
Sep 5, 2023
UVic campus. Photo: James Macdonald / Capital Daily
UVic campus. Photo: James Macdonald / Capital Daily
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

As students return to Victoria, rental scams and unaffordable rates await them

Rental scams and loss of scholarships among consequences plaguing students

Sarah Madsen
September 5, 2023
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As students return to Victoria, rental scams and unaffordable rates await them
UVic campus. Photo: James Macdonald / Capital Daily

College and university students are flocking back to the city for the start of school, meaning even more people are looking for elusive affordable housing in Victoria, which is becoming increasingly unaffordable. 

“Once September hits you might know how crazy the market is in Victoria, it is like it's posted in a minute and the next minute it is gone,” says Jagjeet Singh, external executive of the Camosun College Student Society (CCSS). 

“My major concern when I came here was that I wouldn’t be able to find housing in Victoria, when I first came here three years ago,” says Singh. 

In its annual rental market report released in January, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) pegged Victoria’s vacancy rate as one of the lowest in the country.

The percentage of available purpose-built rentals was just 1.5%—and making matters worse, the price to rent one if you could find one was on the rise—while the rate for available condominium apartment rentals was a miniscule 0.2%.

Students looking for lodging in August were met with some of the highest-costing rentals in Canada, with even a studio apartment running upward of $1,750, according to Rentals.ca’s monthly report. The report said the average cost of a one-bedroom unit in Victoria was $2,054 last month, while the average monthly rent for a two-bed was $2,753. 

Priced out of the one-and two-bedroom options, students often opt to rent a single bedroom in a shared suite, most commonly found on Craigslist and Facebook housing groups. 

Based on the listings on the UVic Off-Campus Group Facebook housing page in August, the average cost for a single room in a shared suite was $1,009. A student working a part-time job 20 hours a week and earning BC’s current minimum wage of $16.75 an hour, would make in the neighbourhood of $1,350 a month. 

The race to find affordable housing in time for the beginning of school means students  sometimes can find themselves in compromising situations. 

“During September everyone is like, ‘I need to find a home, doesn’t matter how I find it,’ so that is when people actually risk their money and get scammed a bit more,” said Singh. 

More people looking for housing means more eyes on ads on rental housing websites such as Craigslist, Facebook, and Used Victoria that could be illegitimate. 

Dylan Baker, a student who’s just finished studying at Camosun College and is about to embark on studies at UVic, recently came upon a listing that appeared suspicious.

It was an ad for a one-bedroom suite on the UVic Off-Campus Group Facebook housing page. Baker contacted the person who posted it to find out more.

“He started asking me all these weird questions like ‘how many kitchens would you like?’ and ‘where would you like to be?’ I was confused. If you have a suite available for rent then there would be a set amount of bedrooms in a place,” said Baker. “So I asked him if he had multiple places for rent and he said ‘yes’ and he seemed pretty reluctant to provide information on what kind of suite he had for rent. Then, I asked him for more details and he wanted a $600 deposit before viewing.”

Familiar with the rental market in Victoria, Baker’s spidey senses kicked in.  

“It just seemed really, really fishy,” Baker says. “So, I reported his account on Facebook and I reported the ad, and I made a post on the Facebook group saying to avoid the person.” 

This is not the first time Baker encountered what may have been a scam. 

“There was an ad on Craigslist for a one-bedroom suite and he was asking about $1,000 a month for the suite, and he yet again asked me for a deposit. He said that he had moved down to South Carolina or something, and that he wouldn’t be able to show it in person and asked for a deposit. Just fishy,” said Baker. “Almost immediately after I started messaging with the person I went to view the ad to take a second look at it and it had been flagged for removal already.” 

The challenge of determining if a listing is a scam can be tricker for those unfamiliar with Victoria’s rental market. 

“A lot of international students who come here do not know the culture in Canada, how the housing works,” Singh says. 

Affordable housing in Victoria is often elusive. Photo: James Macdonald / Capital Daily

Udhav Nagi is an international student from New Delhi who’s starting his Master’s program in electrical and computer engineering at UVic in the fall. 

Nagi found an ad for a two-bedroom suite sublet. The unit was only 2 km from the university, including all utilities for a pretty good price. Nagi decided to give it a shot, and contacted the person who made the listing. 

“He started off by sending me pictures and videos which were of really bad quality, and rushed me to fill out an application and pay the security deposit,” Nagi says. “Me, being a newbie to renting a place overseas, I thought this was the standard procedure and I went ahead and transferred the security deposit.”

It was only after doing more research that Nagi realized it was a scam.

“I saw multiple users posting ads for the same address but using totally different pictures,” Nagi says. “On asking for a business card, he got aggressive with me. That's when I realized that I'd fallen right into someone's trap.”

Nagi got lucky. The money that he sent had not yet been deposited, so he called his bank and was able to have the transaction cancelled. 

Nagi’s situation is not unique, though for many once they’ve sent the deposit it’s usually too late to get it back.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC)’s annual fraud report for 2021 found that of the $379 million reported as having been lost to fraud that year, only $3.35 million had been recovered.

“From outside the country it is really hard to get housing,” says Singh from Camosun. “One of the things that I have learned is that you can hope that people have self-awareness and self-consciousness, but you can’t expect it. That was also the case with me, it took me some time to settle down in this country and then slowly and steadily, I managed to learn what actually needs to be done.” 

Singh, himself an international student from India, also encountered what he considered a suspicious rental listing when he began to look for housing in Victoria three years ago.

“I was in housing quarantine and I was desperately looking for a house and I did not know anyone over here so I found some random person on Marketplace and they wanted me to pay them while I was in quarantine from my hotel,” said Singh. “I was like ‘I don’t have cash and I don’t have a bank account, because I just landed and I was put into a room for 14 days’ . . . it was a risk regarding health and I didn't want to be exposing myself to anyone and I didn’t know if the person was a legitimate homeowner or if they had a home or an apartment that they really could give to me.”

Singh was advised by a family member in Surrey to not go forward with the accommodation. 

“I saved myself,” said Singh. 

Rental scams are more common than one may think

Scams may be more prevalent than you think. In 2019, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) found 46% of people looking online for rental accommodation encountered fake listings.

Last September, VicPD issued a release seeking to identify a rental fraud suspect who allegedly had scammed at least 10 people out of thousands of dollars. In one instance, the alleged fraudster had shown a prospective tenant a unit, called their references, and signed a believable lease agreement before the tenant paid a deposit and rent. When the tenant arrived at the unit with the provided key fob–which did not work–they discovered someone was already living there.

Baker says housing portals such as the UVic Off-Campus Group Facebook housing page, where he found the potential fake listing, have to be better moderated.

“It would be quite nice if the administrator of the group took a little bit more time into reviewing posts that were made on the group to make an effort to try to protect people from scams,” he says.

In the same breath, he says he knows doing so won’t prevent all rental scams. “There is just going to be a lot more ads posted on Facebook Marketplace, on Craigslist, on Used Victoria that there is only so much that you can do,” said Baker. “You are going to be experiencing at least some level of scam and fraudulent ads no matter where you go.” 

How to not be scammed

There are several steps would-be renters can take to prevent being scammed. 

“The most important thing we tell people to do is to go and actually see the property itself,” says Singh. “That way if something happens, they know at least where to find the landlord.” Viewing the property can also confirm that the room shown in the listing is the actual one being rented,” he says. 

Singh says people looking to rent should be cautious if the person posting the ad begins to make excuses about showing the unit. Singh says if they tell you they can’t show the unit because it’s occupied right now, something isn’t right because in BC landlords are allowed to enter units, provided they give their tenants 24 hours notice. 

Baker suggests prospective tenants familiarize themselves with Victoria’s rental housing scene. 

“Do lots of research,” he says. “Just make sure that you are viewing lots of ads and multiple different sites so that you can get an idea of what the market is like for whatever you are looking for—if you are looking for a one-bedroom, if you are looking for a studio, if you are looking for a one-bedroom in a shared house—try to know what these things are worth in Victoria so if you see something that looks a little bit too good to be true then at least you might be a little bit more mindful and know that it might just be.” 

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), one way to avoid scams is to not be afraid to say "no." Scammers often use pressure tactics to convince people to hand over money quickly, before they can give it proper consideration. Housing scams often involve the “landlord” saying there are multiple people actively interested in the listing to get you to agree right away. 

The CAFC also warns not to give out personal information such as Social Insurance Numbers (SIN) or banking details.  

Saanich Police recommend asking for advice from at least two friends or family members before handing over any money.

The Better Business Bureau has a scam tracker where people who think they may have been defrauded can consult a database of similar existing scams. If a scam has occurred, it can be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.  

Students at Camosun College (pictured) and UVic scramble to find housing as the fall semester begins. Photo: Camosun College Flickr

Inaccessibility of affordable rental housing has other detrimental effects

Rental scams are not the only unfortunate consequence to the lack of access to affordable rental housing. Former UVic student Anna Buck lost her entrance scholarship—valued at $5,000 a year— when she was unable to find a place to rent after the university announced its return to in-person classes in September 2021. Because of the loss of the scholarship Buck wasn’t able to afford to return to university.

“It is such a big topic that has really changed my life so much—I’m living here, I am working full time, which I was not expecting to do at this point,” Buck says. “It’s definitely been difficult watching a lot of people who I went to school with who have now graduated. I do wish I had my degree.”

Buck was supposed to enter into her third year of study at UVic and has lost out on the remaining $10,000 of her scholarship. “I have thought about going back but it just has not been in the cards financially for me still,” she says. The scholarship was the main reason she could afford to go to UVic in the first place, she says. 

“When UVic announced that we were going back to in-person classes I joined the scramble to find housing and was unsuccessful,” says Buck, who reached out to hundreds of listings on Facebook, Craigslist, and property management sites. She only heard back from four, and wasn’t offered any of the openings.

“I got to the point where I was living in Campbell River with my parents and I was driving here on weekends and knocking on property management office doors, looking for vacancy signs, and nothing,” she says. 

Buck finally managed to find a place that had a start date at the beginning of October, but by that point it was too late into the term to return to school and she was unable to get an accommodation from the university to defer her semester. 

“I just couldn’t find a place in time for the start of the term, and then when the term started, I had reached out to all my professors…and there was no way I could get course material except by being there in person and I just did not have a place to stay,” she says. 

“I definitely wish the university had had a little bit more sympathy for that fairly obvious situation, it was no secret that housing was a difficult commodity to find,” Buck says. 

“Housing is one of those things that is always in the back of my mind and it's discouraging. It feels like quite a hostile market because everyone is trying to live here and you see something affordable and there are 38 people jumping on it.” says Buck. “It feels quite hopeless.”

Buck thinks having pet guinea pigs contributed to her inability to find a place. 

While it is difficult to find pet-friendly rental units at the best of times, Buck encountered further issues. “I actually had a couple people who had listed their homes as pet friendly and when I told them it was guinea pigs they were no longer willing to have them there, they wanted a dog or a cat,” says Buck. 

Buck can understand some landlords’ reluctance to having animals in their homes, but she didn’t want to have to give her pets up—something that’s become more common. Capital Daily’s Tori Marlan found in May that rescue organizations were reporting being overwhelmed with abandoned pets due to prospective tenants having to give up their animals in order to find accommodation.

Increasing accessibility to affordable rental housing for students  

The CCSS has been advocating for on-campus housing to be built on Camosun’s Lansdowne campus, but that would entail government approval and funding because right now, it’s not in Camosun’s budget. 

“Camosun College has never had on-campus housing and that is something we are working to address in partnership with the province,” a representative from Camosun College told Capital Daily. “Building student housing on campus is a priority for the college as affordable housing will open doors to education for more students. We’re working with the Ministry of Post-Secondary Education Future Skills on a proposal to bring on-campus student housing to the Lansdowne campus.”

“Since the two years that I have been [with CCSS], I have been hearing that it will be in six months,” says Singh. “Right now, we just need some housing on campus—we just need housing—something is better than nothing.”

Arshita Giri, Lansdowne executive of the CCSS, agrees that first-year students should be prioritized if Camosun builds on-campus housing. Giri believes this would allow students arriving in Victoria to have secure accommodation. 

“If you get housing here first, if it is available, and then you can find places [more easily] because then you would know many more people after you have been here for a while and you could find housing at a lower price,” says Giri. 

On-campus housing has yet to be approved, but Singh and Giri are hopeful. “Once we have approval for Lansdowne we would try to advocate it for the [Interurban] campus, too,” says Singh. 

At UVic, Baker says cost is a huge concern. “Personally I would like to see the cost of on campus housing go down a lot, that would be really really nice,” said Baker.

In April, UVic announced a 10% increase in on-campus housing prices.

Beginning this term, a single room with a standard meal plan will cost $6,400 per term, or $1,600 a month. That’s an increase of $191 per term, or $48 a month.

The current rent increase limit in BC for 2023 is 2%, however on-campus accommodation does not fall under the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA). 

“If there were cheaper housing that was available on-campus, and a lot more of it, that would protect a lot of people,” says Baker. 

Singh put it simply: “You need to have shelter on your head if you want to live somewhere.”

Article Author's Profile Picture
Sarah Madsen
Editorial intern

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