For more than a year now, the Competition Bureau has been urging homeowners to be wary of deceptive tactics used by door‑to‑door salespeople trying to get them to sign a contract for a new water heater or heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system.
Anxious to make a sale, foot-in-the-door agents pressure homeowners to accept an urgent inspection of their water heater or HVAC systems, and sign a contract with them on the spot. They frequently offer so‑called “no‑cost” upgrades, which later prove to be suspect. They may also misrepresent themselves as working with current suppliers, local utilities or municipalities, when they have no such affiliations.
Door-to-Door HVAC Schemes Often Overpriced
Unwary homeowners, particularly seniors, who sign such HVAC rental agreements can easily end up paying far more than their system is worth, without ever owning the equipment outright. Many report that their contracts contain misleading information or that they don’t show the market value of the equipment, the duration and true cost of the agreement, and the additional fees involved.
Complications for Home Sellers
But the problems associated with signing such contracts go beyond those inflated costs – they can come back to haunt you when you list your Toronto townhouse or detached home for sale. Property owners trying to sell their homes can find themselves in a bind and the eventual sale price may be considerably less than expected. That’s because these HVAC companies can put a lien or security interest on the house equal to the original value of the installed system, forcing unsuspecting sellers to settle up as the deal comes to a close.
That’s what happened to Taylor Wild and his family after they discovered there was an $11,000 security interest on the HVAC system in their existing home. Wild tells the CBC he had to scramble to pay off that lien interest before he could sell the house, leaving his family short on the down payment for their new home.
Liens Can Slow a Home Sale and May Affect Refinancing
Here’s how a security interest works: The homeowner signs a contract to rent a HVAC system from a supplier. Then, the vendor or, in some cases, its lender, registers a security interest on the equipment for the length of the contract ensuring it recoups its money in the event the house is sold or the equipment is damaged.
Registering a lien like this does help the HVAC vendor ensure that rented equipment is transferred correctly to new homeowners. It also protects sellers from being held responsible for any charges after the sale. Trouble is, these liens – while outlined in the rental agreement that customers sign – are often unexpected news for busy sellers. What’s more, even if you plan to continue living in your home, you may have trouble refinancing your mortgage due to such a lien.
Liens are only cleared from the records when the liabilities associated with them are paid in full. All liens stay with the property – so if you buy a home with outstanding liens, you assume responsibility for those costs.
New Rules Expected to Offer Greater Protection
Before you even listen to a sales pitch, keep in mind that local utility companies, municipalities, or government agencies simply don’t send salespeople door-to-door. If you have concerns about any door-to-door sales experiences – particularly those that might involve a lien against your property – be sure to call Consumer Protection Ontario at 416-326-8800 (GTA) or toll-free at 1-800-889-9768.
Recently, the Ontario government introduced legislation that would curtail or even ban unsolicited door-to-door sales of certain household appliances like furnaces, air conditioners, and water filters. The new laws require companies to give consumers a 10-day cooling off period after an agreement has been made, signed and a copy of the contract has been returned to them.
To protect yourself when someone knocks on the door:
- Ask for photo ID and get the name of the person and the business making the pitch
- Never share personal information from a utility bill with any door-to-door salesperson
- Don’t rely on any representative’s opinion as to whether your HVAC system should be replaced
- Remember, you never have to sign a contract at any time
Finally, when buying a house, find out if you’re about to inherit a HVAC system on lease, some of which may not have been installed according to code. This equipment can be expensive to remove, so you might want to adjust the sale price accordingly.