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Homes on Brunswick Ave. in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood, photographed on June 19 2014. (FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Homes on Brunswick Ave. in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood, photographed on June 19 2014. (FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Supreme Court chooses to avoid Toronto real estate competition case Add to ...

The Competition Bureau says that a Supreme Court decision Thursday brings it one step closer to stoking more online competition in the real estate world.

The Supreme Court has denied the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB)’s request that the court wade into the heated battle between the Competition Bureau and TREB, the country’s largest real estate board representing about 39,000 realtors in the Toronto area.

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The fight has ensued for years. The Competition Bureau first conducted a lengthy investigation into the real estate industry and then in 2011 filed a case with the Competition Tribunal accusing TREB of anti-competitive practices.

The Bureau alleged in its suit that TREB was preventing real estate agents from making certain data (such as the price a house has sold for in the past) more accessible online.

The Tribunal, an adjudicative body that hears cases brought by the Competition Bureau, dismissed the case, and so the Bureau proceeded to take its battle to the federal appeals court.

“The Toronto Real Estate Board prevents its members and others in the Greater Toronto Area from competing effectively through Internet-based real estate brokerages,” the Bureau said in documents filed with the appeal court.

“TREB’s rules deny the buyers and sellers of residential real estate more choices, better services, and lower prices.”

For its part, the Toronto Real Estate Board has been arguing, among other things, that it is protecting the privacy of sellers.

This February the federal appeals court ruled in favour of the Competition Bureau, sending the dispute back to the quasi-judicial Competition Tribunal.

The Tribunal had originally ruled that TREB, as a trade association, doesn’t compete with its own members, so it can’t be found to have abused its dominance. The Federal Court of Appeal said that interpretation was too narrow, and that the tribunal should consider the merits of the case.

It was at that point that TREB requested that the Supreme Court review the case.

“We continue to believe that prohibiting TREB’s anti-competitive practices and allowing real estate agents to provide the services of their choice is the only way to ensure that consumers and real estate agents alike can benefit from increased competition for residential real estate brokerage services in the Greater Toronto Area,” John Pecman, the Commissioner of Competition, stated in a press release Thursday.

While the case is with the Toronto board, it is being watched in the assumption that it will set a precedent for the rest of the country.

Toronto Real Estate Board spokeswoman Mary Gallagher said in a statement that it would be inappropriate for the board to comment on details given that the case is once again before the Competition Tribunal.

"TREB will say, though, that the Commissioner of Competition is persisting in its efforts to erode the personal privacy and contractual safeguards afforded by the MLS® system," she added in her e-mailed statement.

"TREB will continue to work to protect the personal information entrusted to it and its members by the general public, while it strives always to do what it can to ensure a highly competitive environment for real estate professionals in the GTA."

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