gavel-treb-lawsuit Photo: Beth Cortez-Neavel/Flickr

The Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) has hit a setback in its efforts to control consumer access to multiple listing service (MLS) home transaction data, including sale price information.

The federal Competition Tribunal, a specialized court, has ruled in favour of the Competition Bureau, which argues restricting access to MLS data is a violation of Canada’s Competition Act governing business conduct, focussing particularly on anti-competitive practices.

“The Tribunal first concluded that TREB substantially or completely controls the supply of MLS-based residential real estate brokerage services in the GTA,” it said in a statement published today about the April 27th ruling.

“The Tribunal then found that TREB has engaged in, and continues to engage in, a practice of anti-competitive acts,” it continued.

The tribunal highlighted “certain restrictive aspects” of the password-protected VOW, or virtual office website, which board members can log into for detailed sales information, including data that can’t be posted publicly online.

“Most importantly, this includes a considerable adverse impact on innovation, quality and the range of residential real estate brokerage services that likely would be offered in the GTA, in the absence of the VOW Restrictions,” said the tribunal.

John Pecman, the bureau’s commissioner, lauded the ruling, although the tribunal has not yet outlined the terms of its legally binding order.

“This is a good day for competition and innovation,” said Pecman in a statement. “We welcome the decision and look forward to the hearing before the tribunal on remedies,” he added.

The tribunal will release its order “after the parties have provided written submissions addressing this issue of remedy and have had an opportunity to make oral submissions on that issue,” it said.

TREB has cited homeowner privacy as a concern, according to CBC. “The Toronto Real Estate Board will continue to work to protect personal information entrusted to it,” John DiMichele, TREB’s CEO, said in an email to CBC, the outlet reports.

This case can be traced back to 2011, the year that then competition commissioner Melanie Aitken challenged TREB’s restrictions limiting how its members display Toronto MLS data.

The tribunal dismissed the case after a 2012 hearing, but a successful appeal led to a new hearing this past fall.

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