Real estate board continues crackdown

by Justin da Rosa25 Sep 2017
The message has been sent: Anyone who publishes the Toronto Real Estate Board’s proprietary sold data can expect legal action.

The board has a history of swiftly squashing any individual or organization that tries to publish its sold data – this time targeting a data analyst in Toronto.

Shafquat Arafeen, a mid-twenties data analyst, was threatened legal action by TREB after publishing a visual trends report on the Toronto Housing Market using publicly available data.

Arafeen said his project was merely a bid to better understand the real estate market in Toronto. He also said he was surprised by the cease and desists sent by TREB.

“In the media you’re always hearing about a bubble or prices going up or down and I felt like the only source we had for that was TREB’s monthly postings,” he told REP. “So I wanted to look into the data a little more to be a little more educated. I came across a Chinese site that had house sale data; I figured I could aggregate it and do both data and statistical analysis on it. Mostly just for research and educational purposes.”

Arafeen’s data found a growing gap between an asking price and a sold price, where the sold price was higher than the asking price. Near the end of June, though, he found the numbers were converging.

He is unsure why the board targeted his site.

“When data is more accessible it benefits society as a whole,” he said.

Arafeen eventually received a cease and desist letter from TREB, which he published on his website. He has since taken the data down.

“Your  website provides  users with  access  to sold property  information for  residential  listings  in Toronto  and  the Greater Toronto Area.  The sold property information on your website ("the Work") originates from the TREB MLS System, which comprises a database containing proprietary information of TREB,” the letter, reads. “TREB owns all right, title and interest, including copyright in and to the Work. 

“At no time were you or your website authorized or provided with consent by TREB to use or distribute TREB's proprietary information,” it continues. “Downloading, procuring and reproducing the Work without written licence from TREB is an unauthorized use of TREB’s proprietary information and a breach of copyright.”

When reached for comment, a TREB representative refused to comment, citing the board’s policy of not commenting on legal matters.

This is the latest bid by TREB to protect its sold data.

Last year Fraser Beach, a Toronto-based agent with Select/Plan Real Estate and the publisher of torealestatesold.com, suspended the sales data section of his website after receiving a similar cease and desist from TREB.

At publication time, the website says it is temporarily suspended.

There has also been a long and public battle concerning the publication of TREB’s sold data.

Last summer, the Competition Bureau ordered the board to make its sold data public. However, TREB appealed the decision. A final ruling has not yet been made.

COMMENTS

  • by Robert Romano 9/25/2017 11:08:27 AM

    This would never stand up in court against a charter "freedom of expression" claim. Am I wrong to think that, once TREB publishes the data, it can be used, analyzed and interpreted by anyone, as long as the source is credited? This is no different from any other academic, scientific or journalistic endeavour.

  • by Gary Little 9/25/2017 11:30:34 AM

    Regarding the last paragraph of this article, "last summer" was actually Summer 2016. The appeal of the Competition Bureau's decision was heard in early December 2016 and it has now been almost 10 months without a ruling from the Federal Court of Appeal. What's taking them so long in rendering a decision?

  • by Dave Z. 9/25/2017 3:17:16 PM

    Sold data is never published to public. Therefore no one has the right to use & distributed it without permision. It's the hard work of the board & more specifically its agents.

    All your information like full name, address, etc gets posted online one you get a home phone. Does that give anyone the right to use that info available online without your consent? Ofcourse not. We agents cant even advertise live listings of other brokerages without permission. Just because its online doesnt give me as an agent to use that house & find buyers, I need permission as well from the agent & eventually the seller. Hope it makes sense where treb is coming from. 😊

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