The Stronger Protection for Ontario Consumers Act
The Stronger Protection for Ontario Consumers Act provides consumers with more protections in four main areas:
- Door-to-door water heater rentals and sales
- Debt settlement services
- Real estate fees and commissions
- Transparency in real estate transactions
Taking the Heat Off Door-to-Door Sales
The Ontario government has received more than 2,240 complaints and inquiries about companies offering water heater rentals in 2013. These companies often present consumers with hard-to-understand contracts, and salespeople may use aggressive, high-pressure sales tactics. This issue has ranked in the top 10 consumer complaints received by the Ministry of Consumer Services over the past three years.
The new law strengthens consumer rights at the doorstep 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.
Ontario intends to develop regulations that will further protect consumers by setting out the rules for verification calls.
Settling Debts Fairly and Honestly
Currently, there are 18 companies and 34 credit counselling providers offering debt settlement services in Ontario. Some companies charge customers large upfront fees and describe the services they will provide in hard-to-understand contracts, and fail to deliver the promised reduction in debt.
To protect vulnerable, indebted consumers, the legislation creates new standards of conduct for companies by:
- Banning companies from charging upfront fees for debt settlement services
- Limiting the amount of fees consumers are charged and prohibiting the payment of fees before services are provided
- Requiring clear, transparent and detailed contracts that include information about the effect of the contract on the consumer's credit rating
- Requiring credit counsellors to disclose information to the consumer about how their organization is funded
- Establishing a 10-day cooling-off period, providing consumers more time to consider their agreements with companies
- Allowing the licences of non-compliant companies to be revoked.
Getting What You Pay for in Real Estate Transactions
In the past, the province has not allowed real estate professionals to charge both a fee and a commission for services. Typically, consumers pay for all-inclusive services from real estate professionals through a commission based on the sale price.
Under the new legislation, real estate professionals are able 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.
Keeping Real Estate Bidding Transparent
The vast majority of real estate professionals in Ontario act ethically. The new legislation strengthens the integrity of real estate bidding practices and increases the transparency in multiple offer situations by:
- 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.
Falsifying information or documents related to real estate is already an offence under the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act, 2002. However, there is no requirement for brokerages to keep competing written offers. Requiring them to do so would enhance the Real Estate Council of Ontario's ability to explore claims of false offers, making it easier to take action against real estate professionals who falsify or fabricate these documents.