The Competition Tribunal has dismissed the Competition Bureau’s complaint that the Toronto Real Estate Board’s policies are anti-competitive. It’s a huge win for TREB and for CREA, but that may not be the end of the story.
The bureau’s application before the tribunal requested that TREB eliminate rules that it claimed “denied real estate agents the ability to introduce innovative Internet-based real estate brokerage services, such as Virtual Office Websites (VOWs).”
Although ruling that the bureau failed to make its case under one section of the Competition Act, the tribunal stated in “an observation” that another section of the act “might give the commissioner a means to apply to the tribunal.”
The decision says: “We realize that the remedies are less extensive under section 90.1 but nevertheless the commissioner might be able to seek an order prohibiting the members of TREB’s Board of Directors (who are competitors) from enforcing the restrictions ….However, we note that this observation is not intended to suggest whether such an application in this case would succeed on the merits.”
John Pecman, interim commissioner of competition, said in a statement: “While I am disappointed that the tribunal has dismissed the bureau’s application, we will be reviewing the tribunal’s decision to determine our next steps.”
Lawrence Dale, who was president of RealtySellers Real Estate at the time of the application and was granted intervenor status at the tribunal, says: “This was a classic case of a legal technicality where nothing gets resolved. The tribunal said the case was filed under the wrong section and has now steered the bureau to refile under the correct section. Once these technicalities are addressed, the fundamental issues still remain to be determined. How long that takes to get resolved is anyone’s guess.”
But in a statement, TREB says: “This is a substantive decision which unequivocally allows TREB to continue with its current Virtual Office Website (VOW) policy. These VOWs allow consumers to access Realtor members’ secure password-protected websites displaying MLS listing data. TREB is increasing access and competition while safeguarding the privacy rights of consumers.”
Dale, who has now closed RealtySellers and is with Roger’s Zoocasa website, says, “Despite the uncertainty that this decision has created, I am encouraged by TREB’s more recent approaches to
balancing the needs of consumers wanting more information with historical practices.”
The application was dismissed with costs payable by the Competition Bureau to TREB. To read the full decision, click here.