Calgary woman fighting for return of $500 rent deposit after changing her mind about apartment

Heather Wensrich is warning renters to do their research before handing over rental deposits, after battling to get her $500 returned from a local property management company. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

A Calgary woman is warning others to think twice before giving any type of deposit for a rental property. She's been fighting to get her $500 application deposit back after changing her mind — but experts say it's not clear whether she is eligible.

Last weekend, Heather Wensrich filled out a rental application and put $500 down on an apartment. The form said that if she was approved, the money would go toward her first month's rent. If she wasn't, the money would be returned.

But neither of those things happened. Instead, Wensrich found another place. The next day, she tried to withdraw her application, and asked for her money back.

Wensrich says the property management company, Red Trout, has not returned the money.

"It's frustrating, I feel like it's a bit of a scam," Wensrich said. "I mean to be honest I've never been asked to give someone money to apply for an apartment before, and especially when it's not clearly stated in the rental application form that this is a non-refundable deposit, I feel like I am within my rights within 24 hours to ask for that back especially if I don't intend on signing an agreement with this person."

The owner told CBC's Colleen Underwood that he returned the deposit, but Wensrich says she hasn't received it yet. Based on the online reviews she's read, Wensrich said this is something the company has done to other people.

"I think just renter beware in this situation," she said. "If you seem a little bit uneasy about what you're applying for, maybe look into it a little bit more and maybe do the Google review thing and check what other people have said about the company. Especially in this case, I wish I had."

Wensrich said she overlooked her own uneasiness in her quest to line up a property.

Gerry Baxter, with the Calgary Residential Rental Association, says his members have a similar "offer to lease" agreement. And the way it's written, landlords can keep that initial hold deposit if renters back out.

"Because let's face it, you know it costs the landlord money to check out a tenant, too," Baxter said. "Because they do their credit checks. So you got staff time in terms of doing your previous landlord checks, checking the employment rate to make sure that they make enough money to pay for the unit. Then you have to do the credit checks and that costs you money. So, the landlord's out some money when they process these documents you know."

Depending on the wording of the forms, Red Trout may be within its rights to keep the "hold" deposit.

Baxter suggests Wensrich could seek reimbursement through the Landlord and Tenant advisory board's dispute process.