Mia Jewett was searching for a one-bedroom place to rent on Craigslist when she came across two suspicious e-mails that prompted her to contact the Whistler Housing Authority.
The New Zealander, who also holds Canadian citizenship, said she was considering several different places when she came across the e-mails.
"I was searching for one-bedroom places, and I applied to a few different places around the same price range," recounted Jewett.
"A few ended up replying right away and asking me to fill out a form. I thought I'd fill out the form and see what happens. I got two different e-mails back from two different addresses, but they had the same photos."
The content of the e-mails for homes on 4660 Blackcomb Way and 8365 Valley Drive also seemed strange, said Jewett.
In both responses, the writers said they were on religious missions in Africa, and they asked Jewett to wire money to their wives who had stayed behind. The e-mails were littered with grammatical errors.
For example, one responder wrote: "In my previous mail i (sic) told you that the apartment will be viewed from outside because the keys and documents to the apartment are with me here in africa and i don't have anyone local to show you the apartment..."
Jewett immediately realized the housing ads were probably scams, and she forward the e-mails to the Whistler Housing Authority to let them know what she had found.
"People may fall for it," said Jewett, who is still looking for a place to live. "It happens all around the world, and there is going to be some poor person that might fall subject to it."
Now, Marla Zucht, general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority, is trying to raise more awareness about the Craiglist housing scam.
"With the ease of Craigslist and the Internet for listing places, it is one of those things that is on the rise," she said.
According to Zucht, the housing authority's office has received complaints about Craigslist housing ads for the past few years, although the scams may have been around longer.
She said there are a few things prospective renters can look for when applying to housing ads over the Internet.
"Make sure you can go physically look at the place, that it really exists, and you can verify the civic address," said Zucht. "Quite often they send photos, and I click on the photos, and I can immediately tell it isn't a Whistler place."
The scams also often have someone saying they are in Africa and are trying to rent out the place while overseas, said Zucht. They will frequently ask for people to wire money to them.
"Certainly the security deposit is one that we are seeing, too," she added.
"They are asking for a lot of money up front, where a landlord can only ask for half a month's security deposit up front. By no means should people be sending rent ahead of time. They should post-date cheques or have registered cheques for the date they move in, so it can be cancelled."
Four months prior to the Olympics Winter Games hit Whistler, Zucht also said it is important for renters to be aware of their rights.
Tenants who are worried about being kicked out of their homes by their landlords for the Games should register with the municipality's tenant registry, she said, at renters@whistler, with their name, address, details of their lease and as many tenant details as possible.
Renters can also contact the B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch ( www.rto.gov.bc.ca ) or the Tenants Rights Action Coalition ( www.tenants.bc.ca ) if they believe they are being treated unfairly or evicted illegally.
In general, unless the lease states otherwise, tenants can only be evicted from their home if someone from their landlord's family is moving in or if the landlord is undertaking major renovations.
Meanwhile, Zucht said there seems to be more rental units available in Whistler right now than in the previous years.
"For our rental statistics that we track every week in the paper for what is available, the ads are showing there is more out there than there has been in the past," said Zucht.
"At the end of the week of Sept. 27 this year, there were 70 long term rental ads compared to the same week in 2008, there were only 27, and in 2007, there were only 60."
Prices, however, are higher than in previous years. According to Zucht, the average price for a one-bedroom in Whistler is listed at $1,450. Comparatively, the average price in 2008 was $1,275; in 2007 it was $1,212; and in 2006, it was $1,069.
"Prices are definitely up across the board, for studios, one bedrooms, two bedrooms, three bedrooms and single family homes," she said.
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