NEW-HOME WAR­RANTY

Crit­ics want a choice

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - CRAIG PEAR­SON cpear­son@post­media.com

Not enough is be­ing done to over­haul On­tario’s new-home war­ranty sys­tem, says a group op­posed to the mo­nop­oly held by Tar­ion. “Premier (Kath­leen) Wynne has pub­licly stated that ‘the time for mo­nop­o­lies is over,’ ” said Wind­sor home­owner Gay Viecelli. “Why then is her gov­ern­ment keep­ing Tar­ion?”

Tar­ion is a non-profit cor­po­ra­tion cre­ated in 1976 to reg­u­late home build­ing and pro­vide newhome war­ranties in On­tario. Pub­lic meet­ings held by the gov­ern­ment over the sum­mer led to Bill 166, the Strength­en­ing Pro­tec­tion for On­tario Con­sumers Act, which will strip Tar­ion of its reg­u­la­tory power in 2020 but will al­low its war­ranty mo­nop­oly to con­tinue. Viecelli asked Wynne at a Wind­sor town hall in Fe­bru­ary why the gov­ern­ment had blocked a free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quest from Cana­di­ans for Prop­erly Built Homes. The group wanted to see doc­u­ments from meet­ings in the sum­mer that led to the cre­ation of Bill 166.

Wynne said she would have to check and asked a staff mem­ber to pro­vide an an­swer to Viecelli, who said she’s still wait­ing for a proper re­sponse.

Ul­ti­mately, Viecelli wants what she sees as a bet­ter new-home war­ranty sys­tem, so that her grand­chil­dren won’t have to ex­pe­ri­ence what she did — be­ing re­quired to deal with Tar­ion with­out the chance to shop around.

A decade ago, Viecelli had a home built. She said there were a num­ber of de­fi­cien­cies but when she turned for help to her war­ranty provider, Tar­ion, she en­coun­tered re­sis­tance.

“I be­lieved that I had a home war­ranty and that Tar­ion was the provider who was go­ing to sup­port me when I had prob­lems with the builder,” Viecelli said. “I learned that was not the case. Tar­ion was very quick to deny claims, even small claims.”

She ac­knowl­edged that Tar­ion did even­tu­ally cover costs to re­place an im­proper tub, but she said it did not fully cover other is­sues. She has since sold that home and built an­other with­out the use of a builder, and there­fore did not have to buy a war­ranty.

But Viecelli has con­tin­ued work­ing with the con­sumer ad­vo­cacy group Cana­di­ans for Prop­erly Built Homes.

“Tar­ion is first and fore­most a con­sumer pro­tec­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­tects con­sumers by reg­u­lat­ing builders of new homes and by back­stop­ping the On­tario New Home War­ranty if a builder is un­able or un­will­ing to ful­fil their statu­tory war­ranty obli­ga­tions,” said Tar­ion spokes­woman Laurie Stephens, not­ing that the com­pany en­sures builders have the fi­nan­cial, tech­ni­cal and cus­tomer ser­vice ca­pa­bil­i­ties to build homes. “The war­ranty cov­er­age on new homes and con­dos is among the most com­pre­hen­sive in Canada.”

Stephens said Tar­ion helps con­sumers in other ways, too. “Well be­fore pay­ing out a war­ranty claim, Tar­ion helps home­own­ers who are work­ing through is­sues with their builders and in many cases we are able to help the home­owner reach a res­o­lu­tion with their builder with­out hav­ing to pur­sue a claim,” she said by email. “Tar­ion also pro­motes im­proved build­ing and cus­tomer ser­vice stan­dards through ed­u­ca­tion.” Builders pay be­tween $435 and $2,034 to en­rol a home with Tar­ion, which pro­vides a new-home war­ranty, a cost usu­ally passed on to the buyer.

Hired by the gov­ern­ment for $112,000, Jus­tice J. Dou­glas Cunningham con­ducted a re­view and made 37 rec­om­men­da­tions that would ef­fec­tively shut down Tar­ion. “I would have liked to see Jus­tice Cunningham’s re­port fully im­ple­mented,” said Karen Somerville, pres­i­dent of Cana­di­ans for Prop­erly Built Homes. “He pro­vided a com­pre­hen­sive road map to go for­ward. The main rec­om­men­da­tion is to fol­low what most of Canada has done and cre­ate a com­pet­i­tive war­ranty model in On­tario. That is the main one that would have re­ally fa­cil­i­tated a lot of great changes for On­tar­i­ans.” Somerville ap­plauds the gov­ern­ment for re­cently ap­prov­ing a value for money au­dit of Tar­ion, though such a re­view won’t hap­pen be­fore 2019.

“What we of­ten hear from home­own­ers is that Tar­ion seems to pro­tect the builder rather than the home­owner,” said Somerville, who ac­knowl­edged that Tar­ion does help some con­sumers. “It re­ally starts with the gov­er­nance of Tar­ion. The board is very dom­i­nated by builders, not con­sumer­pro­tec­tion ad­vo­cates, and it has been that way for 42 years.” Somerville said Tar­ion’s own re­ported num­bers sug­gest it could do more to help home­own­ers deal­ing with faulty new homes.

The 2016 Tar­ion an­nual re­port, the most re­cent avail­able, shows the com­pany paid out $10.2 mil­lion in claims — but took in $24 mil­lion more than all of its ex­penses. As a non-profit pri­vate cor­po­ra­tion, Tar­ion is not in­cluded on the prov­ince’s Sun­shine List, which pro­vides pub­lic salaries over $100,000. But in 2016, Tar­ion paid al­most $25 mil­lion in salaries and ben­e­fits. The Toronto Star, based on doc­u­ments avail­able in the United States but not in Canada, has re­ported in the past that Tar­ion CEO Howard Bo­gach made about $700,000 in 2013, in­clud­ing bonuses.

As well, at the end of 2016, Tar­ion had more than $542 mil­lion in in­vest­ments.

Mat­teo Guinci, spokesman for the Min­istry of Gov­ern­ment and Con­sumer Ser­vices, said more pro­tec­tions for home­buy­ers are com­ing, thanks to the Strength­en­ing Pro­tec­tion for On­tario Con­sumers Act.

It “will im­prove the dis­pute res­o­lu­tion process for home­own­ers, strengthen the reg­u­la­tion of new-home builders and ven­dors, give gov­ern­ment the au­thor­ity to make rules and set stan­dards, and help im­prove ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency,” Guinci said in an email. “Some changes took ef­fect im­me­di­ately, in­clud­ing strength­ened over­sight of the Tar­ion War­ranty Cor­po­ra­tion.”

New de­posit pro­tec­tions have al­ready been im­ple­mented. And in the fu­ture, the min­is­ter may set se­lec­tion cri­te­ria for Tar­ion board mem­bers, limit the num­bers from one group and ap­point the chair. “The gov­ern­ment is com­mit­ted to un­der­tak­ing fur­ther study on the fea­si­bil­ity and im­pact of im­ple­ment­ing (Cunningham’s) re­main­ing rec­om­men­da­tions,” Guinci said.

DAN JANISSE

Gay Viecelli dis­plays a stack of doc­u­ments re­lated to her is­sues with Tar­ion for a home she owned a decade ago. Tar­ion is a com­pany that reg­u­lates new builders and pro­vides war­ranties for new homes.

NICK BRANCACCIO

In 2016, Tar­ion paid out $10.2 mil­lion in claims — but took in $24 mil­lion more than all of its ex­penses.

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