Real Estate

Realtors not at risk from online property listings: Samaroo

By Rob Lamberti, AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Toronto real estate lawyer Sarita Samaroo says a "protectionist mentality" is behind a lawsuit filed by a real estate board against a website offering free views of home listings.

Samaroo, principal of SST Law Professional Corporation, believes the board took the position to protect data on its website from being used by the other party.

The group filed the lawsuit last September seeking $2.1 million and claiming the property listings website illegally accessed, copied and shared proprietary data. The defendant filed a countersuit in October alleging it suffered losses in excess of $50,000 after it was forced to shut down its website.

"I think the courts, based on the Competition Bureau decision, determined that [the real estate board] doesn't really have the ability to claim the information is proprietary," Samaroo tells AdvocateDaily.com. "I think this case essentially limits its ability to take a protectionist stance."

The Competition Bureau Canada issued a 2016 order prohibiting "certain anti-competitive acts" by the board and cited it for placing restrictions "on its members' access and use of real estate data, including restrictions on the display of historical listings and sale prices online through virtual office websites," according to the Competition Bureau's website.

The Federal Court of Canada upheld the bureau's ruling in 2017, and the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the board's request for leave to appeal.

Samaroo suggests that history could make it difficult for the group to now claim proprietary rights to its website material — possibly with the exception of photographs.

"I believe that's going to limit them going forward with respect to any website where they're making a claim that proprietary information is being distributed," she says. "All the information on MLS is essentially not only for realtors to view but also for the general public.

"I think they're going to have difficulty continuing this stance in future," Samaroo says.

She says the board's opposition to virtual realtor office websites may be based on a belief that this availability affects realtors' job security — that if people could search for data on their own, realtors would become redundant.

"But what they fail to understand is that there is true value in a realtor," Samaroo says.

"A website cannot negotiate prices for you, or put in specific clauses to protect the consumer," she says. "It cannot direct you to a skilled lawyer or a real estate professional who can guide you in the proper direction to purchase a property.

"This is where people cannot be replaced in my view," Samaroo says.

A website that provides data and available listings could help people find realtors associated with the listings they're interested in, she says.

"It could open the market to the benefit of realtors," Samaroo says, and websites would provide clear information about the status of a listing, whether it was suspended, expired or terminated.

"Now all of that information is available to the general public," she says. "The realtor can't be replaced, nor can the value of a professional helping a buyer through the process."

Samaroo says the proprietary information in question includes past prices and pictures of the properties that normally would not be available, beyond the general descriptions of properties that are usually seen.

"They believe it's sensitive content that should only be available to realtors," she says.

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