Website sharing homes sold data online gets legal pushback from TREB

TORONTO — The operator of a website that began publishing homes sold information after a court ruling that the Toronto Real Estate Board must be more open with its data says it has received a cease-and-desist letter from the board.

Realtor Fraser Beach, who runs Select/Plan Real Estate Inc. and has battled TREB in court over the right to publish data, says he suspended subscriptions for its Just Sold email and online report service on Friday after he received the notice from the board’s lawyers.

“The cease-and-desist letter has no validity,” said Beach, whose websites include sold.watch and tosolds.ca.

“But TREB can knock me off the (Multiple Listing Service), basically, with a certain degree of impunity, any time they want. … That’s the risk that you have in not honouring their letter.”

The Federal Court of Appeal on Dec. 1 upheld a ruling from the Competition Tribunal that Canada’s largest real estate board must allow its realtor members to make home sales data available online, dismissing a TREB appeal.

TREB has said it will take its challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada, leaving the status of the current ruling in limbo.

Shortly after the appeal court ruling, websites such as MongoHouse.com and HouseSigma.com began publishing or sharing online the selling price of particular houses, which TREB has argued violates consumers’ privacy.

Beach began re-offering a daily email with homes sold data and access online to subscribers for a fee — a service he had shut down last fall after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from TREB. He also notified TREB that, in light of the Dec. 1 decision, he planned to reinstate his Just Sold service.

The letter Beach received dated Dec. 14 from TREB states that an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling, which upheld a decision that Beach’s sharing of TREB data was a violation of its user agreement, has not been affected by the recent appeal court ruling.

“Your brokerage is once again supplying large parts of TREB MLS System and selling that information to the public in breach of the (authorized user agreement) and the proprietary rights of TREB,” the letter reads.

“Please cease and desist immediately in your current conduct. … TREB will take such steps as it deems necessary or advisable to protect its rights.”

TREB CEO John DiMichele said the board “is concerned and believes strongly that personal financial information of home buyers and sellers must continue to be protected and only safely disclosed with their knowledge and informed consent.”

“TREB cannot confirm whether these individual sites are obtaining such displayed information through any TREB authorized source or whether they are operated by a TREB member,” he said in an emailed statement. “If this information is being provided to these sites by a TREB member, then such use of the TREB MLS data is a breach of the authorized user agreement binding on all members.”

He reiterated that TREB disagrees with the appeal court’s decision, and will be seeking leave to appeal and an order staying the decision until the outcome of the appeal is known.

Meanwhile, other realtors and websites are holding off until there is more clarity on the issue.

Real estate firm Zoocasa is waiting until it receives direction from TREB on how to proceed, a spokesman said.

Mayur Arora, a realtor with OneFlatFee.ca in B.C., said he is eager to publish homes sold data but he is in a “holding pattern” until there is further direction from the Canadian Real Estate Association and the B.C. Real Estate Association.

“I think it’s going to bring more transparency to the whole system, which is much needed. … It’s also going to help people make better informed choices,” Arora said.

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