Ottawa

Door-to-door company in hot water over sales tactics

An Ottawa company accused of using misleading door-to-door sales tactics is facing numerous charges under consumer protection laws.

Ontario Safety Standards, director facing 112 charges under Consumer Protection Act

Cornwall, Ont., resident Robert Payette signed up for a water treatment system with Ontario Safety Standards after being promised it would lead to discounts on his hydro bill. (Jennifer Chevalier/CBC)

An Ottawa company accused of using misleading door-to-door sales tactics is facing numerous charges under consumer protection laws.

Ontario Stars Corporation and its director are facing a total of 112 charges including unfair practice, failure to deliver a direct agreement and failure to refund payment under Ontario's Consumer Protection Act.

"It is alleged that the corporation made false, misleading, or deceptive representations to consumers in their home," the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services told CBC in an email. "It is also alleged that the corporation used a contract that did not comply with the act and failed to provide refunds to consumers as required."

Rupinder and Khushprit Maloka made a complaint about the company after they signed a contract for a water softener that they say a salesperson told them was free. A month later, a charge of $59.99 appeared on their hydro bill. 0:53

Ontario Stars Corporation operates under the name Ontario Safety Standards, which sells and installs HVAC and water filtration systems.

CBC Ottawa has reported on customer complaints involving the company before.

The charges were laid March 15 against the company and its director, Saeed Torbati. The accusations have not been proven in court. 

Torbati did not reply to CBC's requests for an interview, nor did he provide a statement.

Taxi driver Khushprit Singh Maloka and his wife, Rupinder, say they worked long hours and weekends to pay off the mortgage on their Barrhaven home. Now they have a lien against the property after signing up for a water filtration system they thought was free. (Félix Desroches/CBC)

Dozens of complaints

The charges stem from 19 complaints from the Ottawa area, but the ministry said a total of 85 complaints were filed between Jan. 1, 2017, and March 15, 2019. A further 77 "incidents" were reported during the same period, the ministry said.

Barrhaven residents Khushprit Singh and Rupinder Maloka filed one of those complaints after they signed a contract for a water softener in 2016.

The couple said door-to-door salesmen from Ontario Safety Standards led them to believe the equipment was free of charge under a provincial program.

They were also told it would improve the quality of their water.

"I even asked him, the city is providing us very nice water, why we need it? He said, 'No no, Ontario government is giving free, so you can have it,'" said Khushprit Singh Maloka, an accessible taxi driver.

The Malokas said they never gave the sales representatives a credit card or banking details, but they did show them a copy of their hydro bill. A month later, a charge of $59.99 appeared on it.

Rupinder Maloka filed a complaint about Ontario Safety Standards with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. (Félix Desroches/CBC)

'I couldn't sleep'

After several months the Malokas stopped payments, and are now being sued for more than $8,000 for the remainder of the contract by a finance company that purchased their rental agreement.

"I was extremely upset," Rupinder Maloka said. "I couldn't sleep. I used to wake up, like, what are we going to do? How are we going to handle this situation?

"We're not in a situation where we can spend money lavishly. We spend our money very carefully. So it was nerve-racking."

The couple has hired a paralegal to fight the lawsuit.

Stuck with contracts

Another alleged victim, Cornwall, Ont., resident Robert Payette, said door-to-door salesmen from Ontario Safety Standards promised he could save 40 per cent on his hydro bill through a government program if he signed an agreement to lease a water softener.

I should have done my due diligence at the time.- Robert Payette

Payette said he was promised a further 25 per cent discount if he agreed to rent another piece of water treatment equipment from the company.

When the promised savings did not appear, he was stuck with the contracts.

"I should have done my due diligence at the time, but 40 per cent sounds good, and I'm recently separated, so every per cent is sweet," he said.

$6K lien

Payette discovered another company called Canadian Safety Standards has registered a security interest, more commonly known as a lien, on his home for nearly $6,000.

A corporate profile search revealed Canadian Safety Standards is the registered name for Safety Standards Group, whose director is also Saeed Torbati.

Payette is now suing the company.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) lists a warning about the company on its website, alleging a "pattern of complaints" and agents who employ "aggressive [sales] practices and often misrepresent themselves as being inspectors or affiliates of a government program."

The BBB notified the company of its concerns and requested remedial action on Sept. 12, 2017.

In a response to the BBB 10 days later, Ontario Safety Standards said it had "a zero tolerance policy for any and all misrepresentations," and said it was taking several steps to prevent such complaints in the future, including financial penalties against agents found to be engaging in misleading sales practices.

Charges against Ontario Safety Standards under the Consumer Protection Act were filed on March 15. (Jennifer Chevalier/CBC)

Sales rep 'lied his way in'

In his case, the sales rep "lied his way in," Payette said.

"We're still people, and there's no reason to get walked on. We're not carpets, saying, 'Welcome, wipe your feet on us.'"

The Ontario government banned door-to-door sales of HVAC equipment, water and air filters on March 1, 2018. Both Payette and the Malokas were approached at home before that law came into effect.

Saeed Torbati has been summoned to appear in provincial offences court in Ottawa on May 2 to face the Consumer Protection Act charges.

Conviction for a single offence under the act could result in a maximum fine of $50,000 and a prison sentence of two years less a day.

A corporation that is convicted under the act is liable for a maximum fine of $250,000.

About the Author

Jennifer Chevalier

Enterprise Producer

Jennifer Chevalier is the senior producer of enterprise journalism at CBC Ottawa, focusing on original stories and investigative reporting. You can contact her at jennifer.chevalier@cbc.ca