Rental Contracts: Always Read the Fine Print

What would you do with $87,632? Are you asking yourself who won the lottery? Or, who donated to what charity? Unfortunately, this is a story about loss, not gain.

Recently, we sat down with a local family who have just lost their matriarch. We were called to give our opinion of the existing HVAC equipment and offer recommendations as the family decides what to do with their Mother’s home. Upon arrival, we learned the family was looking for a way to get out of a few rental contracts their Mother had signed. This request is actually quite normal, and we’re always happy to do what we can in these circumstances.

Aren’t rental companies supposed to do yearly cleanings and check-ups on their equipment?

We made our way to the mechanical room in the basement and found the furnace first. As expected, it’s a rental. Same with the water heater and air conditioner. We continued. There’s a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) – a rental, and a steam humidifier – another rental. Is that really a HEPA system? Yep. Rental. AND an electronic air cleaner? You guessed it…rental.

We take a quick look at the water softener and carbon filtration system. Both rentals. What’s that hiding behind the furnace? Another HEPA system! Rental. (We later discovered this unit was only a year old and had been removed to make room for the new one the salesman sold. Sadly, yes, she was being billed for both.) We could immediately tell by the (lack of) quality of the installations, this woman had been sorely taken advantage of.

For one reason or another, we decided to open the HRV. It was easy to see it had NEVER been turned on. This may have been a blessing in disguise as the installer “borrowed” her recycling bin to use as the drain collector (we assumed he didn’t see the four holes in the bottom).

The steam humidifier drain was kinked and left to drain directly onto the floor, hidden behind the furnace. It also appeared to have never been turned on. The electronic air “cleaner” was plugged solid. At this point, we started thinking: Aren’t rental companies supposed to do yearly cleanings and check-ups on their equipment? Isn’t that one of the conveniences you pay for with a rental or lease?

A trip back upstairs to review the contracts confirmed what we already suspected. Over the course of six years, this woman was preyed on by at least five door-to-door sales people who pawned 10 pieces of equipment PLUS one “plumbing insurance contract” to the unsuspecting Grandmother, who couldn’t even get down the basement stairs.

To top it all off, we discovered one salesman actually stopped by two years in a row and sold two “must-have” units each time. Her rental fees totalled more than $750 per month plus tax. She was on the hook for well over $100,000 in rental fees over the span of her contracts.

Rental contracts have their place but we strongly caution: read and understand the entire contract before you sign.

We sat with her daughter at the kitchen table and sorted through the mounds of paperwork to figure out what equipment was rented from which company. Although her record-keeping was meticulous, to make matters more confusing, one company sent correspondence with four different letterheads.

We started looking at the “fine print.” Here are a few (paraphrased) snippets:

“This agreement is binding to your heirs, personal representatives and successors”;

“you may elect to buy the equipment at any time during the term for its fair market value, plus all remaining payments under the agreement”;

“if you sell your residence,… give effect to the assignment of this agreement to the purchaser”;

“the decision to replace or repair an appliance is the sole discretion of the company.”

This is not the first situation we’ve been involved in where someone wants out of a rental contract (and sadly, it won’t be the last). Rental contracts have their place, but we strongly caution: read and understand the entire contract before you sign.

In January 2018, Consumer Protection Ontario deemed “unsolicited door-to-door marketing of HVAC and water treatment products” illegal, meaning if someone you didn’t invite arrives at your door to sell/rent/lease any of these products, they are doing so outside of the law.

Know your rights!

If you have questions about your rights as a consumer or what should be included in your contract, call Consumer Protection Ontario before signing: 1-800-889-9768 / TTY 1-877-666-6545 or visit Ontario.ca/ConsumerProtection.

So, where does $87,632 come from? That’s what the family has determined to be the current buyout amount, plus or minus a couple thousand dollars for early buyout penalties and other fees.

We write this at the request of the family whose hope it is to save others from having to deal with similar situations.

Consider your options. Take time to decide. Talk with your neighbours and family. Get references. Shop local.

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