Water filtration company owner charged as customers speak out

Two eastern Ontario homeowners are warning others about high pressure water filtration sales tactics they say led them to buy costly systems they didn’t need.

Families allege they were lied to about quality of their water

CBC News investigates a water filtration company that's since been charged by the province. 4:25

Two eastern Ontario homeowners are warning others about high pressure water filtration sales tactics they say led them to buy costly systems they didn’t need.

Dan Farrell said he and his family moved out to the rural south Ottawa community of Richmond three years ago and were concerned about using well water for the first time.

So when a door-to-door salesman for a company calling itself Fresh Clean Air (FCA) Filtration Systems came knocking and told him that he’d consider the amount of chemicals and minerals in his water to be dangerous, Farrell said he bought in.

Farrell purchased a $4,000 reverse osmosis system installed under his kitchen sink and a $4,000 sediment filter in his basement after he was told he would get free servicing in a year. 

When a year passed and the system stopped working, Farrell said he tried calling the company  for five months to get it fixed. But no one came out to his home.

That was when he said he decided to get his water tested again.

"I went to a reputable water company and they sent the raw well water results to a lab here in Ottawa, it came back zeros across the board. As in the water is probably just or if not better than city water,” he said.

“That's when we got really upset. We were lied to in order for someone to take advantage and basically take our money. Take our thousands of dollars for themselves for whatever reason."

Pembroke, Ont., family tried to take up free removal

Stephen O’Reilly said his family had a similar experience when they moved to Pembroke, Ont.

He said they won a free water test through a scratch ticket in the mail. When a salesperson from FCA Filtration Systems came to their house and told them their water wasn't safe, he said he was skeptical.

Stephen O'Reilly said he talked to his neighbours in Pembroke, Ont., and became suspicious when they said they all drink their tap water. (CBC)

“We were thinking ‘Thanks for the information but we really can't afford to sign on this year. It's just not something we can do right now,’” he said.

“So what he then did was got on the phone, called the financial institution, hung up the phone then said ‘Look, for you I can do a special deal, I can defer the charges for one full year provided you buy it from us today ... If you’re not happy we’ll remove it free of charge.’

“So (after hearing) all that together we said why not, what do you have to lose."

O'Reilly said they bought a $4,000, under-the-sink filtration system, but after learning how many of their neighbours drank the water from the same city system they too decided to get the water tested by someone else.

"There was nothing wrong with the water. We couldn't believe this,” he said.

O'Reilly said they still had three months to get that system taken out of their house before they reached the one-year mark and were charged, but despite multiple reassurances from receptionists at the company, nobody ever came.

When the one-year mark passed, O'Reilly said they started getting charged a monthly rate plus nine per cent interest.

"Once they have your money they don't want to talk to you again. They don't want anything to do with you,” O'Reilly said.

“We felt we had been betrayed. We kept calling them, they kept ignoring us ... It was a really rocky situation where we just thought they got what they wanted and they didn't want anything from us more afterwards." 

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Owner, company charged by province last week

CBC News has learned Ontario’s Ministry of Consumer Services charged FCA Filtration Systems and owner Bhawanjit Gill with unfair practice, failure to provide a direct agreement and failure to refund customers last week in relation to the O’Reilly’s situation.

Last week after an investigator from the Ministry of Consumer Services and the CBC contacted Gill, he had a worker come to the O'Reilly's house, take out their filtration system and gave them a refund.

O'Reilly said he’s now willing to share his story to help others avoid going down the same path.

"It's so easy to fall for the trap. Like I'm usually pretty good at screening a lot of stuff out; in this case I was taken by surprise,” he said.

“If someone wants to buy a filtration machine, no problem, they can get one. But if someone doesn't want to, they shouldn't be forced into a situation through this type of sales tactics where they lie to you and do high pressure sales tactics that you don't want to do."

Dan Farrell of Ottawa says he paid $4,000 for this reverse osmosis system under his sink, which the company won't uninstall. (CBC)

Dan Farrell said he still hasn’t heard back from the company and has contacted the Ministry of Consumer Services.

He’s also hired a lawyer.

“I think the anger just took over, to the point where we got vocal and are seeking some other people that have suffered (through) this,” he said.

“Now we're pursuing litigation over these guys. We're not going to sit back and let them take our money, it's too much." 

Gill wouldn't agree to taped interview

CBC News has made several attempts to speak with Bhawanjit Gill on camera, but he wouldn’t agree, backing out of a planned, taped interview saying he thought it would be a private meeting.

FCA Filtration Systems owner Bhawanjit Gill briefly spoke to a CBC reporter. (CBC)

Gill promised to come back the next day, but didn’t show up.

The CBC’s Ashley Burke did record her first conversation with Gill, in which he said he’d been in business for more than 20 years and defended his company.

"We do very normal testing and we recommend them what they need,” he said.

“With the water, I find every time customers get mad they’re calling (the) city… so we are not aggressively working with water that much.”

Gill is scheduled to appear in court to face the Ministry of Consumer Services charges on Feb. 24.