The federal Competition Bureau will get another chance to try to force the Toronto Real Estate Board to make it easier for Web-based real estate services to compete.
The Federal Court of Appeal ruled Monday in favour of the Competition Bureau, allowing an appeal of an earlier decision that went in TREB’s favour, and sending the dispute back to the quasi-judicial Competition Tribunal to hear the merits of the case.
Last year, the Competition Tribunal dismissed the bureau’s case, which alleged that Canada’s largest real estate board was keeping tight control of certain data on house sales, thus hurting the new startups that operate on the Internet. (The Competition Bureau, a federal watchdog, often takes its complaints to the Competition Tribunal, which is a specialized court with decision-making powers.)
But that April, 2013, decision was based on a technicality: The tribunal 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 three judges of the Federal Court of Appeal said, however, that was too narrow an interpretation, and ordered the case back to the tribunal “for reconsideration on the merits.”
The case has been in the works for several years. After a lengthy investigation of the real estate industry, the Competition Bureau filed its case in 2011, accusing TREB of anti-competitive practices.
The bureau says TREB unfairly keeps data about historical home prices away from online services that compete with real estate agents and potentially eat into their commissions. TREB, for its part, argues that it is upholding privacy laws and protecting the personal information of home buyers and sellers.
While the competition bureau’s case involves only the Toronto real estate board – the largest in the country – its eventual resolution could have implications in other cities across the country.