With less than a month left to comply, the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) has announced it is appealing the Competition Tribunal’s recent ruling against it concerning the board’s limitations on who can access detailed home-sale information.
“The tribunal erred in fact and law in determining that TREB has lessened competition,” the board said in a statement this morning. “TREB does not compete in the real estate market,” added TREB, which operates its own multiple listing service (MLS) system through which Greater Toronto Area homes are listed and sold.
In late April, the tribunal, a specialized court, ruled in favour of the Competition Bureau, an independent law-enforcement agency, opening the door for easier (but not unrestricted) access to MLS home sales data for consumers.
Prior to the ruling, set to take effect August 3rd, some information — including final sales prices, broker commissions, and pending sales, according to BNN — was only directly available to TREB member realtors. Realtors could only share it with their clients who inked an agreement to have the agent help them buy or sell a home.
The Competition Bureau argued successfully that TREB’s control over how agents release information stymies innovation in the sector, calling it “anti-competitive” conduct. However, though the Competition Tribunal decided that the information should be more accessible, it still has to be password protected if posted online, according to its ruling.
What’s more, those listing their homes moving forward would have the option of opting out of having their transaction information posted online.
However, TREB has long asserted that making this detailed sales info available online is a violation of privacy, and it continues that argument in its latest statement despite these stipulations.
“If the tribunal’s order stands, TREB cannot prevent personal financial information or other confidential information of residential property sellers and buyers within the GTA, such as pictures, from being copied, sold, or misused once this information is made available on the Internet,” said TREB.
“Canada’s privacy law regime requires that any disclosure of personal financial information for uses not previously identified to the consumer requires the consumer’s informed consent,” the board continued, citing the Digital Privacy Act and other privacy laws. “The decision of the Competition Tribunal, with respect, does not respect this right of consumers within the GTA,” it continues.
Asked to comment on TREB’s suggestion that the rights of consumers aren’t respected with the ruling, a Competition Bureau spokesperson highlighted how end increased competition favours them.
“More competition generally means lower prices, better product quality, greater consumer choice and innovation, all of which benefit not only individual Canadians but the economy as a whole,” says Taylor Bildstein, senior communications advisor for the bureau.
BuzzBuzzHome News emailed TREB for further comment on why measures such as password protection and an opt-out feature aren’t enough to satisfy privacy concerns, but did not hear back as of publication.
Although there has been speculation that the ruling against TREB, the country’s largest real estate board, would set the precedent for others to follow, the board said it was unfair for there to be different rules in different local Canadian markets given the limited scope of the ruling.
“Why should homeowners in the GTA be entitled to less privacy protection over the personal financial information than those homeowners elsewhere in Ontario, elsewhere in Canada?” it said.
TREB filed the appeal on Friday with the August 3rd deadline to comply approaching, the Canadian Press reports. TREB is asking for a stay, which would push the compliance date back to the conclusion of the appeal.
“We are working to meet the order deadline and comply,” John DiMichele, TREB’s CEO, tells the Canadian Press. “But we have serious concerns, as we’ve laid out, so yes, we are appealing and asking for a stay.”
The new appeal is the latest chapter in a legal battle that TREB and the federal Competition Bureau have been in since 2011.