Monday , September 26 2022

Egan: Senior feels burned after 'free' thermostat leads to $ 12,000 liability



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When Ontario banned the problematic practice of door-to-door sales of certain household items in March 2018, it left out thermostats.

And here we are in the hallway of Paul Carbonneau's spotless home in Kanata, looking at a new "smart" thermostat, a space-age looking unit controlled from anywhere with a cellphone.

"They came in and installed it for free, and now it's costing him $ 12,000," said Paul's son-in-law, Robert Fox.

It gets worse. Carbonneau, 70, is battling some age-related cognitive impairment and admits his memory of the events on Oct. 25 is not as sharp as he'd like.

But we know this. On Nov. 20, the family sent a letter of complaint to Canadian Safety Standards saying that three salesmen or agents had duped him into accepting the thermostat, then persuaded him to lease a water softener for 10 years at $ 93 a month (with tax).

"To be honest, I felt overwhelmed by these people surrounding me," Carbonneau said last week. "I was confused, for sure. They came into my house under false pretenses to install that stupid thing downstairs. "

This is one of three similar cases brought to the attention of this newspaper in the last few weeks – all involving "free" thermostats as a starting point, evolving into the lease of other appliances, and all involving Canadian Standards Safety.

The written complaint also alleges how the sales person got around the fact that it is illegal to sell a water softener with a door-to-door pitch. Once the smart thermostat was installed, Carbonneau says, one of the agents asked to call his supervisor using Carbonneau's phone.

The supervisor, according to Carbonneau, then asked him to tell the three men to leave his home. He would only understand the request later when the family more closely examined the written contract.

It included a checked box that said, "You contacted the supplier to invite them to your home to buy or lease at least one of the products above" and the list included the banned items. The statement is false, says Carbonneau, who says he never contacted anyone to install the devices.

His daughter Julie and husband Rob are distressed at yet another aspect of the story: because a void check appears to have been provided, the money is being automatically debited from Carbonneau's account, with an annual increase built in.

Rob calculated the total payment, including interest, would be $ 12,682 for a device that could cost $ 1,500 retail, and which the experts say no one on city-supplied water even needs. (Ottawa has soft water that needs no in-house treatment and Carbonneau already had a programmable thermostat in his 10-year-old home.)

His children listed all the ways in which they allegian a mentally vulnerable parent was deceived, including a claim that Carbonneau had a "leaky unit" in the basement that needed replacing.

(There was no existing water conditioner / softener to create a leak. Carbonneau says they showed him a small puddle of water near the hot water heater as evidence.)

"Three men showed up at my father's home, pressured him into taking the thermostat, installed the water system without his permission, held him as a hostage in his home while they walked around at will and entered his basement to install the water unit without his permission , and then he convinced him was needed to replace a leaky unit, and had to pay an installation cost, "reads the complaint letter from Julie.

"As a vulnerable senior, I was able to go with the flow and not challenge them, and did not fully understand what he was entering or what his rights were."

Canadian Standards offers a different version of events. It says it was contacted online by Carbonneau on Oct. 23 for an in-home visit and an agent came to the next day to explain the "water filtration program." It says the "free" thermostat has a $ 800 value once warranties are included.

(Having only rudimentary computer skills, Carbonneau says he would not know how to ask online for a home visit.)

"Barbara," from customer relations, says the company can not decline a customer's request based on "political, moral or discriminatory" reasons, an apparent reference to Carbonneau's health condition.

"We are allowed to do so and the practice is fully compliant with (the Putting Consumers First Act) and the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services," she wrote in a email.

"We will work with the finance company to help Mr. Carbonneau with his request, "a reference to the third-party company withdrawing the monthly funds. There was a telephone meeting last week, during which the company asked for proof of Carbonneau's medical condition. The dispute remains unresolved.

The Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services had been bombarded with complaints and inquiries about door-to-door sales tactics, in excess of 2,400 in 2016. On March 1, it outright banned the door-to-door marketing of several products, including furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters and treatment devices.

It says it has received 13 complaints related to thermostats and door-to-door sales since October. It is currently monitoring the situation to see if it warrants "strong intervention."

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-726-5896 or email kegan@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/kellyegancolumn


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