Canada’s largest real estate board sues listings website Mongohouse for $2M

The Toronto Real Estate Board is suing Mongohouse for $2 million, alleging that the anonymously-run property listings website is illegally accessing, copying and distributing its proprietary data.

The board, which represents more than 50,000 realtors across the Greater Toronto Area, filed the lawsuit last month in Federal Court asking for an immediate and permanent injunction for the popular website to be taken down.

TREB, Mongohouse
In Toronto, a newly launched $2 million legal battle with a private real estate site is the latest step in TREB’s long fight to ‘protect’ its valuable home sales data. Photo by Richard Kidger via Unsplash.

In the statement of claim, TREB alleges that Mongohouse participates in an “orchestrated strategy to avoid and elude” the board’s multiple attempts over the past two years to shut it down.

It claims the website is infringing on the board’s copyrights by “employing various techniques to illegally data scrape” TREB’s proprietary information that it provides to its fee-paying members through its internal multiple-listings service (MLS). This data includes new property listings, descriptions, sold prices and photography.

It goes on to allege that Mongohouse is profiting by its daily “unauthorized access” of this information, which it then displays on its website for free.

Attempts to contact the website operator and the Toronto Real Estate Board for comment about the legal action have been unsuccessful.

“The information and content taken from TREB is used by Mongohouse to solicit people to use the Mongohouse site and is intended to draw public users to the site to generate advertising revenue,” according to claim.

“All of the information on the Mongohouse website for this purpose is only available from the TREB MLS system. There is no other means available for Mongohouse to obtain the information that is available and made publicly accessible through the Mongohouse website.”

TREB says it doesn’t know how Mongohouse is accessing the information, but it has evidence that it is from them because it placed “unique information” in its system and saw it appear on the Mongohouse website within 24 to 48 hours.

The board argues that it has spent “tens of millions” of dollars to create and maintain its MLS system and that it has suffered “injury and irreparable harm” when Mongohouse “continues to pass itself off as offering the same services…”

In addition to naming Mongohouse.com and Mongohouse.ca in its lawsuit, the claim also names the website’s unknown operators (John and Jane Doe); web server Digital Ocean Canada Inc. and its U.S. based subsidiaries as well as Sheng Lan Mai who is also known as Maxim Mai, of Richmond Hill, Ont.

The board claims that Mai is a software engineer at IBM and “appears to be the original author and creator of Mongohouse.” It is unclear whether he is currently the operator of the website.

The Mongohouse website has been down as of Oct. 1. In a message to its reported 50,000 users, the website apologized for the inconvenience.

“At the moment, Mongohouse is unable to comment and/or share more information until further instructions given,” said the message.

This lawsuit comes after the Supreme Court of Canada decided in August not to hear a case where TREB was fighting to prevent home sales data from being posted on realtors’ password-protected websites.

TREB had argued for seven years at three judicial bodies that allowing the data to be released would create privacy and copyright concerns, but the Competition Bureau insisted keeping the numbers under wraps was anti-competitive and stifled innovation.

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