Stronger consumer protection act passed in Ontario

Province cracks down on shady sales, debt reduction and real estate practices.

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by Stefania Di Verdi
December 2nd, 2013

Online only.

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Ontario on Wednesday passed new legislation with the goal of protecting consumers when it comes to door-to-door sales pitches, debt settlement services, real estate transactions, and real estate fees and commissions. The Stronger Protection for Ontario Consumers Act focuses on these four issues:

  • Door-to-door water heater rentals and sales
  • Debt settlement service fees
  • Real estate fees and commissions
  • Property bidding wars

Door-to-door water heater rentals and sales

Apparently these porch-side sales pitches were among the most prevalent grievances among consumers last year, with the government receiving more than 2,240 complaints and inquiries about companies offering water heater rentals. These companies often present consumers with hard-to-understand contracts, and salespeople may use aggressive, high-pressure sales tactics, according to the government. The act will crack down on these companies by:

  • Doubling the existing 10-day cooling-off period to 20 days for water heaters, providing consumers with more time to consider their decision
  • Banning delivery and installation of water heaters during the new 20-day cooling-off period
  • Allowing rules to require sales to be confirmed by making scripted and recorded verification calls to the customer within the 20-day cooling-off period
  • Providing new consumer protections when the rules are not followed, such as requiring the supplier to pay all costs and cancellation fees that a consumer incurs when the 20-day cooling-off period is not observed

Debt settlement service fees

Some of the 18 companies and 34 credit counselling providers offering debt settlement services in Ontario charge customers large upfront fees and describe the services they will provide in hard-to-understand contracts. Others fail to deliver the promised reduction in debt. The Act looks to:

  • Ban companies from charging upfront fees for debt settlement services
  • Limit the amount of fees consumers are charged and prohibit the payment of fees before services are provided
  • Require clear, transparent and detailed contracts that include information about the effect of the contract on the consumer’s credit rating
  • Require credit counsellors to disclose information to the consumer about how their organization is funded
  • Establish a 10-day cooling-off period, providing consumers more time to consider their agreements with companies
  • Allow the licences of non-compliant companies to be revoked

According to bankruptcy and advisory firm BDO, similar legislation to curb misleading debt settlement practices is already in place in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and N.S. “The Stronger Protection for Ontario Consumers Act passed by the Ontario government will help safeguard those struggling with debt, when they are most vulnerable, from making rash decisions with no way out,” BDO’s Brian Pritchard said in a press released Monday.

Real estate fees and commissions

The new legislation allows real estate professionals to charge a fee, a commission, or a combination of both for the services they offer. “This gives consumers more power when working with a real estate professional by allowing home sellers and buyers to negotiate a combination of fees and commissions, tailoring the cost to the services they want,” reads a government-issued backgrounder.

Property bidding wars

Although the majority of real estate professionals act ethically, the province did feel the need to create some new rules around bidding wars in an effort to keep them more transparent. They include:

  • Requiring real estate salespersons and brokers acting on behalf of a buyer to only present written offers
  • Prohibiting real estate professionals from indicating they have an offer, unless they have that offer in writing
  • Requiring brokers acting for the seller to retain copies of all written offers received
  • Permitting anyone making a written offer on a property to ask the Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario to report the number of written offers on that property

One comment on “Stronger consumer protection act passed in Ontario

  1. Pingback: Canadian Real Estate Changes on the Horizon | Blog site for www.InfoHome.ca

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