TREB CEO concerned about homeowner info being posted online after data release

The Toronto Real Estate Board is “pressing ahead” with the Competition Bureau’s demand to make home sales data available on realtors’ password-protected websites, but that doesn’t mean the board’s concerns around privacy are gone.

In his first interview since the Supreme Court of Canada refused in August to hear TREB’s seven-year fight to keep the numbers under wraps — effectively forcing them to be made public — the board’s chief executive officer John DiMichele told The Canadian Press, “the element of privacy in our opinion hasn’t been settled completely yet.”

While TREB is moving ahead with publication of home sales data, concerns remain, says the CEO. Photo by Alain Rouiller via Wikimedia Commons.
While TREB is moving ahead with publication of home sales data, concerns remain, says the CEO. Photo by Alain Rouiller via Wikimedia Commons.

DiMichele is particularly concerned because he claims to have seen evidence of brokers’ remarks about homeowners being posted online, information that is not included in the home sales data feed TREB had to make available to realtors last Tuesday.

“If someone is receiving this data, we have a duty and responsibility to find out if it is coming out of our system because… (they) will say things like elderly gentleman, hard of hearing, knock loud, or children home alone between 3 and 5 p.m.,” he said, noting that codes to access and secure properties could also be included in the remarks.

DiMichele wouldn’t reveal how he discovered such violations, but said they had been “brought to our attention” recently.

He also refused to discuss in detail what kind of action will be taken against anyone who is caught posting unauthorized information or home sales data without password protections — conditions mandated in a Competition Tribunal ruling that came into effect recently, after the Competition Bureau argued that TREB’s refusal to release the data was anti-competitive and stifled innovation.

“I can’t comment about specific cases, but if people are doing these things, we are certainly going to contact them, if they are contactable because right now my understanding is that some of these websites don’t have identifying information,” DiMichele said.

“Where are they getting the data? If they are getting it from public records, just let us know. If they are getting it from another source that is not TREB, then there is not much for us to say on that, but if it they are posting this data of a private nature, we certainly have to take initiative.”

In early September, the board sent cease-and-desist letters to real estate companies warning it will revoke data access and TREB memberships or bring legal action against members it believes are violating its user agreement by posting sales numbers online “in an open and unrestricted fashion.”

The board’s lawyer Brian Facey previously said in an email to The Canadian Press that the letters were an attempt to find out the source of the members’ numbers and “ensure no one has breached their contracts with TREB.”

TREB has never said how many letters it sent, but real estate companies Zoocasa and HouseSigma Inc. said they had received letters and had stripped their websites of the data until Sept. 18, when the TREB feed was allowed to be posted.

Others, including real estate website Bungol, left the numbers up without password protections.

Several realtors who applied for access to the TREB feed complained last week that they weren’t granted access as soon as it became available and many said they were still waiting to get their hands on the numbers as late as last Friday.

The board has received about 1,000 requests for access to the feed from the board’s 50,000 members, DiMichele said, but only about 600 of those requests have been fulfilled so far.

“Not every delay is on TREB’s side,” he said.

“We are fulfilling them on a regular basis, but sometimes the other side is not prepared or we have people that think they want to do this, so they submit an application and go through the process and then they decide not to proceed, but we are working through it the best we can.”

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