It is something no one wants to deal with over the holiday season — a broken furnace.  

Amber Rinn of Winnipeg said a representative of Reliance Home Comfort called her out of the blue with a sales pitch for furnace insurance in August 2013. 

"I asked him to send out more information. I wanted to read over it, see what was covered, see how much it was going to be," said Rinn, who thought she might still have the warranty on her newer, high-efficiency furnace that she bought from another company. 

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Instead of getting information about the insurance plan, Rinn received a bill for $16.28 dated Sept. 30, 2013.  

"I received a bill that said my payment was past due and the information I inquired about was not there and instead they just signed me up for it," Rinn said.

In early October, Rinn said she called the company to cancel the unwanted service. She said she spoke to a representative who explained the company doesn't send out information packages about the insurance.

"She said she'd be able to cancel it, that was not a problem. It was a misunderstanding," said Rinn.

Days later, Rinn received another bill. She believed the company hadn't had a chance to update its records since her cancellation. Weeks later, Rinn received yet another bill, this time with the threat of collection action.  

"For them to call me and set me up for something I didn't want and then not cancel it when I asked to be cancelled and continue to bill me and now want to affect my credit rating, I was very angry about that," Rinn said.

Hundreds of complaints about company

The Better Business Bureau has received nearly 300 complaints in three years regarding Reliance Home Comfort from customers across the country. Nearly half of those complaints were about billing. A majority have been resolved. 

The Manitoba Consumer Protection Office says it has worked with Reliance to resolve a number of complaints in the past, and a new complaint is currently under investigation. 

Last December, the Competition Bureau alleged Reliance Home Comfort was using unfair return policies.  

People who'd been leasing hot water tanks had to endure "aggressive retention tactics" and "restrictions" on returns.

The Bureau also alleged the company imposed "unwarranted fees and charges."  It wants a $10 million penalty against Reliance Home Comfort, one of the largest allowable.

Company defends itself in court 

A spokesperson from Reliance Home Comfort said the company is defending the accusations before the courts.

In a statement, the spokesperson said "Reliance intends to vigorously defend its current practices that it firmly believes are in best interests of its customers." (Read the company's statement below.)

Regarding Rinn's complaint, Reliance said there can be misunderstandings from time to time but that consumer concerns are always addressed. 

"Our comfort protection plan policies and billing processes are designed to make sure that only those homeowners who see the value in our program and who wish to enrol in the plan are enrolled," the spokesperson said in a written statement.

Last month Reliance agreed it would cancel Rinn's bills. But that hasn't changed Rinn's opinion of the company. 

"It just seems like a money grab," she said.