Green Planet door-to-door furnace salesman accused of cheating Toronto senior
Green Planet Home Services on Ontario's Consumer Beware List
Pilar Vasconez, who has difficulty speaking English fluently, was in her yard when an unexpected visitor dropped by last summer.
"This gentleman came and said to me that the government was trying to do anything they could to help conserve energy, and therefore they were changing all furnaces for high-efficient furnaces — that was his words," Vasconez told Go Public.
Vasconez, a 68-year-old immigrant from Ecuador, invited the man inside.
I feel like they cheated me and lied to me many, many times.— Pilar Vasconez, Green Planet Home Services customer
She says he told her he was from Green Planet. "I thought that he was working for the government, that he was somebody from the federal government," she told Go Public.
"He told me that this high-efficient furnace was going to save me a lot of money and that he was going to take my old furnace and the company or the government — whatever it was — was going to give me $400 back."
Vasconez says the man also asked to see her gas bill and told her that by replacing her eight-year-old furnace she'd save money on a monthly maintenance fee she was paying.
"He showed me some papers — I never read the papers. He never told me they were going to charge me [a rental fee] because I thought it was an exchange — they were taking my furnace and the government was giving me this high-efficiency furnace. That's what I thought."
Vasconez says she signed the contract without reading it, saying she believed what she claims the man told her.
Furnace rental fee hikes heating bill
The first surprise came when the company showed up to install the new furnace.
Vasconez says the workers damaged her basement when they cut holes in the drywall for installation and left a big mess behind.
The second shock came in the mail: her first heating bill since the Green Planet furnace was installed.
Vasconez says what used to be a $147 monthly heating bill had jumped almost $80, to $226.
"I called Green Planet and I asked the lady … 'Is this the government office?'… She says 'No, this is Green Planet.'"
Vasconez says she was transferred to a manager.
She explained her concerns about her heating bill, she says, but the manager told her the bill had increased because of the monthly rental fee she has to pay for the new unit.
"I says, 'No ma'am, it was an exchange. The gentleman took my furnace and he told me he was going to send me $400 because they were going to sell the furnace for scrap.'"
"She says, 'No, no, you're renting the furnace,' and I says, 'Ma'am, what you are doing to me is not right because nobody told me that.'"
Vasconez says the manager promised to look into it and call her right back. She says that didn't happen.
"I must have called six, seven times and every time, the lady that answers the phone, she says that to me: 'Mrs. Vasconez, I know who you are, she will call you back and she must have forgotten, but this time, she will call you back.' They never did."
"I feel like they cheated me and lied to me many, many times."
Vasconez didn't tell anyone for months, hoping the company would resolve the issue.
Then, just last month, after seeing a Go Public story on the CBC, she decided to tell a friend about her problem. That friend contacted Go Public and we contacted the company.
Green Planet disagrees — but makes offer
Green Planet disagrees with some of Vasconez's story.
Operations manager Minnie Carpenter told Go Public the door-to-door salesman showed up at the Vasconez home in July, and two months later, Vasconez decided to have the furnace installed.
Carpenter pointed to Ontario's 10-day "cooling off period" which gives consumers the right to cancel most contracts within that period.
"In this case she had two months," she said.
She says Vasconez may have "misconstrued' what the salesman told her, adding, "or the salesman was a little bit off, [there's] no way of proving what was said or what was misunderstood."
Carpenter says Vasconez never asked the company to take the new furnace out and return her old one.
After Go Public contacted Green Planet, the company agreed to do something it says it's never done before. If she chooses to keep the Green Planet furnace, the company says, it will reduce her rental fee by 50 per cent.
Or, Green Planet says, it will let Vasconez out of the contract altogether and install another furnace similar to her old one — and give her a two-year warranty.
"Basically we're losing money on that," Carpenter told Go Public.
"But I also understand the other part of it is that she … just has a bad taste in [her] mouth or however you put it.
"With that in mind, if she really just wants an old furnace put back in — and she doesn't want to deal with any rental rate — this is something we've never done, but I'm willing to do that concession."
Carpenter says the company doesn't believe it did anything wrong and is making the offer as a gesture of goodwill.
The company also offered to pick up the tab for any damage done to Vasconez's basement during installation.
Green Planet on Consumer Beware List
The Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services told Go Public it received 92 complaints and inquiries about Green Planet Home Services last year and six so far in 2015.
"We've heard a number of complaints mainly due to misrepresentation," says spokeswoman Anne-Marie Flanagan.
"Right now, we have attempted to contact the company twice and they have not responded to us, which is why they have been placed the Consumer Beware List."
"We are actively monitoring the activities of this company."
Cooling-off period extended
Flanagan says issues of door-to-door water-heater and furnace sales — including misrepresentation and high pressure sales — are on the government's radar.
Starting April 1, Ontario is extending its cooling-off period, giving consumers who buy water heaters from a company selling door-to-door 20 days to change their minds instead of 10.
There are no plans yet to extend the cooling-off period for furnace contracts.
Other provinces are also tightening the laws around door-to-door sales.
Meanwhile, Vasconez says she doesn't believe the company would have given her any options without the involvement of Go Public.
At the time of publication, Green Planet and Vasconez have yet to come to an agreement.
How to avoid being taken in by door-to-door sales
Ask for identification.
Make sure you understand which company the person represents.
Never give out private information by showing your utility bills or ID.
Do not feel pressured to buy at the door; take time to think about it.
Know that local utility companies, municipalities, government agencies and regulatory bodies will not sell at the door.
Check provincial consumer beware lists before signing.
Source: Anne-Marie Flanagan, Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services spokeswoman
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