Board shuts down data project

StarMetro Toronto - - TORONTO -

Shafquat Arefeen just wanted to un­der­stand the hous­ing mar­ket bet­ter.

The 26-year-old fi­nan­cial data an­a­lyst saw that the Toronto Real Es­tate Board (TREB) had made ag­gre­gated data pub­licly avail­able — but he wanted to de­velop his own in­sights. Us­ing in­for­ma­tion re­leased by TREB in early July, he pub­lished a vi­su­al­iza­tion of trends in Toronto’s hous­ing mar­ket.

Read­ers loved it. His web­site, which does not have ads, got 13,000 vis­i­tors in the first month the vi­su­al­iza­tion was avail­able. TREB did not love it. On Mon­day, Arefeen re­ceived a cease-and-de­sist no­tice from the group, which rep­re­sents 45,000 Toronto re­al­tors. The let­ter, sent through law firm Gar­diner Roberts, warns that if Arefeen didn’t take down his vi­su­al­iza­tion by Thurs­day they could pur­sue le­gal ac­tion. He com­plied.

“I was re­ally scared,” he told Metro. “I didn’t think what I did was wrong.”

Arefeen spoke to a few friends in the le­gal pro­fes­sion who told him he was bet­ter off just tak­ing it down. But he didn’t like TREB’s ap­proach.

“I felt like I was be­ing bul­lied in a way,” he said.

TREB was un­avail­able to com­ment in time for pub­li­ca­tion.

Arefeen’s vi­su­al­iza­tion dis­plays the num­ber of homes sold by month on a year-over-year ba­sis, the on­go­ing dif­fer­ence be­tween list­ing and sell­ing prices as well as the data for in­di­vid­ual house sales.

“It was mostly for ed­u­ca­tional pur­poses,” he said.

Arefeen stressed that he did not ac­cess TREB’s data­base.

The board closely guards its data, which it con­sid­ers pro­pri­etary. There has been a years­long le­gal bat­tle be­tween TREB and the Com­pe­ti­tion Bureau of Canada, which ar­gues the board en­gages in “anti-com­pet­i­tive” be­hav­iour by pro­hibit­ing ways re­al­tors can use Mul­ti­ple List­ing Ser­vice data. TREB has ar­gued it doesn’t make more de­tailed data avail­able for pri­vacy con­cerns. “We need to use ev­ery piece of pub­licly avail­able data to bet­ter un­der­stand the af­ford­able hous­ing cri­sis,” said Paul Ker­shaw of Gen­er­a­tion Squeeze, a group that looks at how young peo­ple are be­ing priced out of the mar­ket.

Ker­shaw drew a par­al­lel to the lack of free data from the provin­cially-owned Mu­nic­i­pal Prop­erty As­sess­ment Cor­po­ra­tion. He said the cor­po­ra­tion can charge re­searchers like him $20,000 for data that’s freely avail­able in Bri­tish Columbia. Shafquat arefeen

i felt like i was be­ing bul­lied.

Ed­uardo Lima/mEtro

shafquat arefeen was sent a cease-and-de­sist no­tice for his project.

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