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Who's at your door?: Homeowners allegedly exploited by Ontario company

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I never thought I’d be using my own Toronto semi-detached house in a W5 investigation. Talk about close to home.

But it turned out to be one of the most direct ways to investigate a tool that’s allegedly being misused on a large scale to take advantage of tens of thousands of Ontario households.

Here’s how it works, according to a proposed class action lawsuit that’s taking a web of companies to task on its use of what are called “Notices of Security Interest,” or “NOSIs.”

A salesperson knocks on your door, offering to lease you heating or cooling equipment for your home for a monthly rate. Over the life of the contract, that rate adds up to thousands more than the equipment is worth.

That in itself might just be a bad deal for you. However, several customers we talked to for this story found they had no idea that there would be even higher costs to come.

The company takes out an NOSI, which is a dollar amount, with no limit, registered by the company on your home as collateral for the equipment rented. And they don’t have to tell you.

Some NOSIs reviewed by W5 appear to be worth many thousands of dollars more than the equipment itself.

Some customers we talked to say the NOSI threw a wrench into their plans to sell their homes when they needed to while they were trying to move elderly parents or dispose of the assets of a deceased loved one.

And they said if they wanted to get out of it and sell, many were pressured to pay up. Some already have.

Mohsen Seddigh, the lawyer who is representing customers in this proposed class action, says across all the proposed members of the class, the value of the NOSIs could add up to tens of millions of dollars.

Mohsen Seddigh is the lawyer representing customers in the proposed class action (CTV W5)

We wanted to know: how easy is it to set up? And are there any rules?

We needed some equipment to put in my house, so W5 producer Joseph Loiero purchased a thermostat for $130.

He installed it on the wall with double-sided tape – there’s actually no requirement to hook anything up to be able to register a NOSI, which is like a lien.

W5 producer Joseph Loiero purchased a thermostat for $130 and installed it on the wall with double-sided tape (CTV W5)

Then it was a short trip to Seddigh’s office, who walked us through the steps to register the NOSI on my property, as collateral for the thermostat. It was shockingly fast and easy.

I suggested 10 times what the thermostat was worth. There was nothing stopping us. Seddigh said we could have asked for much more.

And for a nominal fee, we could have gone through with the registration -- meaning I’d have to pay my producer, Joe, an arbitrarily high amount if I ever wanted to sell my home. (We un-registered the NOSI as well – sorry, Joe.)

Registering an NOSI for a thermostat, at an amount 10 times what the thermostat was worth, was 'shockingly easy.' (CTV W5)

The rules that govern this process are set by the Government of Ontario, which says it is looking at changing the system.

And the company involved has denied it’s exploiting anyone.

Unfortunately, many of the people we interviewed in our investigation didn’t have the option to cancel the NOSI like we did – and they are stuck negotiating a pricey hold on their property, often worth far more than the rented equipment was worth.

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