bright! Flickr photo by mcfcrandall The court case that pitted the Competition Bureau against the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) had the potential to up-end the way properties are bought and sold across Canada.

But according to the Globe and Mail, the Bureau’s case against TREB, in which they accused of engaging in anti-competitive behaviour, has been dismissed and the Commissioner of Competition was ordered costs payable to the real estate board.

Years-in-the-making, the court battle saw the competition watchdog square off against the largest real estate board in the country over data access, namely who can see the Toronto Multiple Listing Service (MLS) system data.

Currently, TREB operates the listings service and controls how realtors can provide info on the most up-to-date home sales, previous listings and sales prices. The Bureau argued this practice was anti-competitive as it could deny agents the power to set up new online services such as virtual office websites (VOWs).

The password-protected VOWs would allow consumers to search data on listings, thereby allowing would-be buyers to access date without an agent. The move would also open the door to discount, online brokerages.

Part of the bureau’s argument included the fact that the top five agencies in the city earned more than 70 per cent of the commissions in recent years. And just two – Re/Max and Royal LePage – were responsible for more than 40 per cent of them.

Though the cased was limited to the Toronto board, had the tribunal sided with the Competition Bureau, it could have eventually opened up MLS data across the country.

The case was dismissed on a technicality as the Commissioner filed the case under the wrong section of the Competition Act. According to the Toronto Star, in dismissing the case and awarding TREB costs, the tribunal said the case should have been filed in a different section, namely Section 90 of the Act, which deals with behaviour by trade associations.

A spokesperson for the Bureau said that an appeal is possible.

In a news release, TREB stated they are “increasing access and competition while safeguarding the privacy rights of consumers.”

Von Palmer, Chief Privacy Officer, said, “TREB and its members have a moral and legal obligation to protect consumers’ personal information. Privacy matters, so we fought back.”

We’ll be following the story closely to see whether an appeal will be filed.

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