When a scam hits home: St. John’s husband discovers suspicious rental ad for his mother’s house

A series of colorful houses in the center of St.  John's on a clear, sunny day.
While the competition is buzzing about rental housing in St. John’s metro area, potential tenants like Ronnie Gosse encounter rent fraud online. (Luke Wall / CBC)

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

So Gosse was quite surprised when he saw a rental ad online for that particular house.

“She does not have an apartment to rent. She only has a one-bedroom house,” Gosse said. “And I know she’s not renting to anyone.”

Gosse decided to contact the person who posted the ad.

“I took him a little further, 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 keep it for you today,'” Gosse said.

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

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

With the current demand for rental housing in the metro area, Gosse fears that more people may be vulnerable to such schemes.

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

“They can lose on their money and then have to start over.”

Bid war, rising rents and more

Gosse has been searching high and low for an apartment to call his own. And as a construction supervisor, he has more money to play for than some struggling to find housing; Gosse said he is willing to pay up to $ 1,700 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.

Still, Gosse does not find many rental options in the metro area. And in many cases, he said, he thinks landlords demand too much from potential tenants.

“I know a place was looking for a credit check and I think it’s fine and good,” Gosse said.

A close-up of Ronnie Gosse's face.  He is standing in a room with gray walls and dark blue closets.
Since December last year, Ronnie Gosse has been looking for housing in St. John’s metro area. (Posted by Ronnie Gosse)

“But then they asked me about my CPR number. And you and I both know that the only ones who need your CPR number are the state or your employer for tax purposes,” Gosse said.

Another potential landlord said she would stop by for monthly inspections without giving prior notice, according to Gosse. This is in violation of the Housing Lease Act, which states that landlords must give tenants at least 24 hours written notice before entering rental housing.

Then there is what Gosse calls apartment “bidding war”. He said that in some cases, landlords do not set rental rates in advance. Instead, Gosse said, landlords are asking potential tenants what they would choose to pay.

“I think that’s what’s causing some of the increases in rental prices,” Gosse said, mentioning seeing a “pretty run-down” basement apartment that costs $ 2,000 a month plus utilities.

Fraud, rising rents associated with limited housing supply

Sherwin Flight has run the Newfoundland Tenant and Landlord Support Group on Facebook for nearly a decade. He said the housing situation has become much tougher over the past year – and he said the lack of housing supply is his No. 1 concern.

“No. 2 would probably be affordable,” Flight added. “Affordability has always been an issue for some people. But unfortunately, when the supply of rental units falls, the price of those available tends to rise.”

Sherwin Flight stands in front of a snow bank.  He is wearing a blue baseball cap and a black winter coat.
Sherwin Flight is the administrator of a Facebook group dedicated to renters and landlords. (Ted Dillon / CBC)

Flight said the dwindling supply of rental units is likely to also spur an increase in fraud.

“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 you’ve even seen the place.”

Flight also warned of an increase in rental ads with photos and descriptions from real estate ads. “If that sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Flight said.

Flight would like to see tougher fines for landlords and tenants who break the rules of the province’s tenancy law. He would also like to see more non-profit and social housing. But in the end, he suggests that this problem could 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 problem.”

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