Toronto

Ontario Energy Group customers facing liens worth thousands of dollars

Taylor Wild and his family were looking forward to moving into their new Orangeville home in February next year. But that deal is in jeopardy after they discovered there was an $11,000 security interest lien on the rented heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment in their old place.

Client says he's out $20k after discovering a lien on OEG HVAC equipment installed improperly

Taylor Wild, seen here with his son Blake, holds the Electrical Safety Authority tag ordering the OEG-installed HVAC to be brought up to code. Wild said it was cheaper to replace the three-year-old units. (Michelle Cheung/CBC News)

Taylor Wild and his family were looking forward to moving into their new Orangeville home in February next year.

But that deal is in jeopardy after they discovered there was an $11,000 security interest on the heating, ventilation and air conditioning units (HVAC) in their old place.  Wild had to pay off that security interest — commonly known as a lien — to sell the house, leaving his family short on the down payment for their dream home.

"We're going to try to get our money back after the fact. Right now we have to pay it out and cut our losses and move on and battle them afterwards," the 24-year-old father of one said in an interview with CBC Toronto.

Wild is just one of many Ontarians who've run into difficulty with their HVAC rentals. In fact, water heater, furnace and air conditioner contracts are in the top 10 consumer complaints lodged with Ontario's Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, said spokesperson Sue Carroll in an email to CBC Toronto.

And the province has accused the company Wild rented the equipment from, Ontario Energy Group (OEG), as well as its owner, of more than 140 consumer-protection violations.  

Wild's own personal battle started after he sold his house and was told he had to replace his rented OEG furnace, hot water tank and central air conditioning unit because they didn't meet code.

The Electrical Safety Authority slapped warning tags on the OEG installed HVAC at Taylor Wild's Orangeville house and ordered the equipment be brought up to code or removed within 30 days. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC News)

"When Ontario Energy Group installed the units in 2012 with the old owner, there was no permit taken out by the Electrical Safety Authority, Wild told CBC Toronto. 

"The units weren't inspected by the Electrical Safety Authority. They were installed improperly so there's ... multiple code infractions on the units," Wild said.

Wild and his wife took over the lease of the three-year-old units when they bought their home last year. 

He said they never got a detailed contract, so he didn't know he was taking over a 15-year rental agreement with OEG until he was told by a paralegal he had hired to help him. 

We have to pay it out and cut our losses and move on and battle them afterwards.- Taylor Wild

Wild hired another home services provider to replace the units at a cost of $8,000 as a condition of the house sale. 

Then he found out about the $11,000 lien on the equipment, put there by a company called Home Trust.

"I was upset, really upset," said Wild. "If you're going to make these contracts absolutely ridiculous and charge people the amount of money that you're charging people, you would think that they would at least install the equipment properly."

The equipment Taylor Wild rented from OEG sits in the garage of the home he sold. Wild had the equipment removed and replaced by another home services company as a condition of sale. Wild also paid out $14,000 to discharge the security interest lien on the units. (John Sandeman/CBC News)

What is a security interest?

Here's how a security interest works:  A homeowner signs a contract to rent HVAC from OEG. Then, OEG uses the contract as collateral to borrow money from Home Trust.

Home Trust registers a security interest on the OEG equipment for the length of the contract to guarantee it recoups its money in the event the house is sold or anything happens to the equipment.

The clients CBC Toronto spoke with had 15-year rental contracts with OEG.

Vulnerable clients 

"In the last eight to nine months, I've had over 30 clients in the same position," said paralegal John Robinson.

Most of his clients are elderly, some with Alzheimers or dementia, he said. They initially approached him to cancel their OEG rental contracts.

Robinson said they were all shocked to find out there was a security interest lien on the equipment and even more shocked by the amount of the lien. And like Wild, he says, they didn't know they had 15-year contracts with OEG when they signed them.

Paralegal John Robinson has been trying to help 30 clients cancel their HVAC contracts with OEG and discharge Home Trust's security interest liens on the equipment. (Stephane Richer/CBC News)

"These liens represent a lot of the money that they're ... hoping to live on when they sell their home, which represents their savings."

No cooling off period

Less than 12 hours after an OEG representative walked out of 76-year-old Violet Evans's Guelph home with a signed rental contract, a workman was replacing her furnace and central air conditioning unit.

Evans tarped up the rented OEG furnace and air conditioner on her back deck at the beginning of October. She has asked the company to cancel her contract and take the units away. (Michelle Cheung/CBC News)

A couple of days later, the retired bus driver called a representative at OEG to walk her through the details of the contract. "She said it's $160 [a month] for 15 years," said Evans. "I started adding it up and it was $28,000 for a furnace and air conditioner. I mean, get real." 

It was $28,000 for a furnace and air conditioner. I mean, get real.- Violet Evans

She called OEG repeatedly to remove the units and cancel the contract, even going so far as to hire another HVAC company to replace OEG's furnace and central air conditioner.

Violet Evans, 76, seen here with the OEG contract to rent a furnace and central air conditioner. She found out Home Trust had placed a security interest lien on the equipment, which remains to this day. (Michelle Cheung/CBC News )

Two weeks ago, the senior found out there was a $14,000 Home Trust security interest on OEG's equipment.

"I'm disgusted with them," said Evans. "I figured in a couple of years time, we'd sell and get a small apartment because the taxes, heat and the lights and everything, that all adds up."

OEG faces charges

In April this year, the province charged OEG and its owner, Evgueni (Eugene) Farber, with 142 consumer protection violations after an investigation into consumer complaints about the company's practices.

It's alleged the company and its director used false, misleading or deceptive practices, failed to deliver a valid contract and failed to refund as required.

The Electrical Safety Authority, which issues the required permits to companies that install HVAC equipment, said it is investigating OEG on one charge of working without a permit.

Ontario Energy Group and its company director each face 71 charges under the Consumer Protection Act. The case is in judicial pre-trial. (CBC News)

OEG and Home Trust declined CBC Toronto's requests for interviews, but did issue written statements.

"These complaints are not reflective of OEG's business practices, and are not representative of the experience of the overwhelming majority of OEG's customers. Some of these complaints relate to independent sales agencies that previously procured door-to-door contracts on OEG's behalf," wrote Christopher Naudie, a lawyer for OEG.

"OEG has severed its ties with these agencies," Naudie added.

Home Trust changes relationship with OEG

Home Trust's president and CEO, Martin Reid said in a statement to CBC Toronto: "OEG may register on the home title an interest in the financed equipment, and may grant an interest to another party, without notice to or consent from the homeowner."

 After the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services laid charges against OEG, Home Trust changed its relationship with OEG: "On Sept. 7, 2016, Home Trust provided 90-days notice that it will no longer accept any rental agreements from OEG under the income-stream purchase agreement," wrote Reid.

Home Trust will continue to hold the OEG security interest liens it already has unless the customer chooses "to buy-out the equipment before the end of the term, the rental contract is transferred back to OEG," the company said.

"We believe as a lender in Canada that they have a higher duty of care than the business on the street to look after our old people," said paralegal John Robinson.

Restrictions on door-to-door marketing

Ontario's Minister of Government and Consumer Services, Marie-France Lalonde, introduced Bill 59 early last month to restrict unsolicited door-to-door marketing contracts in some sectors, said spokesperson Sue Carroll.

"If the proposed statutory amendments are passed, the ministry would consult on exactly which goods or services should be covered by the solicitation restrictions," she wrote.

"Consumer-initiated contracts would continue to be made under the current law, having a 10-day cooling off period and mandatory disclosure rules."