Heather-Renee Auchterlonie was beyond excited to move into her new home on Hamilton Mountain next month.
The two bedroom house on Thayer Avenue had everything she, her boyfriend and her three-year-old son could want, including a backyard for him to play in and a finished basement, all for $1,600 inclusive.
It seemed too good to be true — because it was.
Auchterlonie soon found out she had fallen prey to what appears to be a prolific rental scam that the has left multiple people without a place to live, and a landlord absolutely baffled about what was going on under his own roof.
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"It's sick that somebody could do this to little kids … you're doing this to children," Auchterlonie said. "It's disgusting."
Police say they are investigating the matter, but have not yet laid any charges, while the alleged scammer maintains her innocence.
'Not paying your rent is one thing, but what they've done to all these young families is just stupid.' - Marc Mikhail, landlord
Auchterlonie first came across a listing for the home on Kijiji in the middle of October, listed as a sublease for the current tenants, Chanelle Trottier and her boyfriend.
Auchterlonie says she viewed the home, which is near Upper Wellington Street and Queensdale Avenue East, with Trottier. She says she then agreed to the terms of the sublease, and paid $1,600 as a deposit on the unit.
"She looked my son in the eye, and she commented on how cute he was, and then put the money she was stealing from me in her pocket," Auchterlonie said.
Meeting the real landlord
On Nov. 2, Auchterlonie says, Trottier contacted her to say she was leaving for a trip to Cuba.
"She said she'd leave us the keys even though we were moving in on Dec. 1, that way we didn't feel uncomfortable while she was gone and knew that the house was ours," she said.
"But when I came to come grab the key, it wasn't here."
Instead, she says, she got in touch with the landlord and found out about the scam. There was no sublease. Marc Mikhail, the landlord, says Trottier hadn't paid her rent in over a month, and he was attempting to have her evicted.
That's when they both went to police. Mikhail said it became evident that Trottier had taken money from "dozens" of young families and had promised them a sublease of the home, but with no intention of following through.
"It's just a new kind of stupid. Not paying your rent is one thing, but what they've done to all these young families is just stupid," he said.
"There were a bunch of couples who were expecting to move in. There was a U-Haul truck in front of the house with equipment, ready to move in. That's where we first found out about it."
Kyle Larsen and Justice Klause were another one of those families, and they say they also paid Trottier $1,600 as a deposit for the home as a place to live with their six-year-old son. Larsen provided a reporter a copy of the sublease agreement he had signed with Trottier's name on it.
He says they found out about the scam thanks to a note that Mikhail left on the door, because so many people were showing up, expecting to be able to move in.
"My son was picking out his room right here," Larsen said. "It's terrible."
'I had no intention of ripping off anyone'
Though the accusations are mounting, Trottier maintains her innocence. When reached by CBC News, she said things are getting "twisted around" on social media, and "a lot of things are being said that aren't true."
"My intentions were never to scam anyone," she said. "I haven't been charged with anything … there's not sufficient evidence to charge me."
Const. Lorraine Edwards of Hamilton police told CBC News that the fraud unit is currently looking into the situation, but no charges have yet been laid.
"It's still in the investigative stages," she said.
Trottier told CBC News that she "never said yes to anyone about subleasing." She also said that people did provide deposits for the home, but they "weren't for" her.
She did not explain what that meant when asked.
"I have no intention of ripping off anyone, and that will be proven in a court of law," she said.
Mikhail says Trottier and her boyfriend did in fact go on a trip in recent weeks, and all their belongings are still inside his property. He just wants them to take them and go.
"They've yet to show up here, but they need to," he said.
"I still haven't wrapped my head around it. All their stuff is still here … their car is still in the driveway — it boggles my mind."