Toronto Real Estate Board appeals tribunal ruling, arguing privacy concerns

TORONTO – The Toronto Real Estate Board is appealing a landmark ruling by the Competition Tribunal that would allow its realtor members to post sales data online, arguing that the decision violates the privacy of homebuyers and sellers.

The quasi-judicial tribunal ruled back in April that the board stifled competition and digital innovation by preventing its realtor members from posting information on their websites about home sales from its Multiple Listing Service.

The board was ordered last month to include in its home sales data feed information it currently does not disclose, including sales figures, pending sales and broker commissions. Under the tribunal’s ruling, realtors would be allowed to share that information, as long as users are required to register to access it, though sellers would be allowed to opt out of having their addresses and listings posted online.

The case, which has been ongoing since 2011, has been closely watched across the country, as it’s expected it could affect how other real estate boards provide services to their customers online.

The Toronto Real Estate Board, which filed its appeal with the Federal Court on Friday, said the tribunal “erred in fact and law” when it ruled that the board’s practices lessened competition.

“The Toronto Real Estate Board has never done anything but support competition amongst our members, and we’ve always supported innovation as well,” board CEO John DiMichele said in an interview.

The board, which represents about 45,000 realtor members, says its policy is intended to protect personal financial information and argues that posting that online would amount to a breach of consumer privacy laws, including the new Digital Privacy Act that came into effect last year.

“Are you OK with having the sold price of your property, even before it closes, put on the Internet for anyone with an email address to have access to?” said DiMichele.

“If you were in that situation, how would you feel about that?”

The tribunal gave the board until Aug. 3 to comply with its ruling. The board has applied for a stay to postpone that until its appeal is resolved.

“We are working to meet the order deadline and comply,” DiMichele said. “But we have serious concerns, as we’ve laid out, so yes, we are appealing and asking for a stay.”

Several realtors said they oppose the appeal, calling it a waste of money and arguing that providing access to the data will make for more informed consumers.

“I’m really not excited about having to pay for an appeal I completely stand against,” said Ara Mamourian, owner of real estate brokerage and a member of the Toronto Real Estate Board.

“They’ve already spent millions of dollars fighting, they’ve lost and now they’re going to spend more money to appeal a decision that’s already been made. … I’m not really sure how much value they’re providing to their members by appealing.”

Mamourian brushed off the board’s assertion about consumer privacy, noting that the information is already available through public records, such as land title documents.

Toronto real estate agent Derek Ladouceur said it’s good for consumers to have more information at their fingertips.

“There are a lot of agents out there that don’t want to hold back that information,” Ladouceur said. “We want our clients to be armed with it, because we want them to make better choices.”

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