There’s an old saying that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is, and now Lawrence Lipson finds himself wishing he’d listened to that sage advice.
The Niagara Falls man says he feels duped and trapped after being convinced to have a new furnace and hot water heater that he says he didn’t even need installed in his home.
The 70-year-old who lives on a modest income of about $28,000 says he was tricked into believing he would be receiving rebates that have not materialized. Now he faces hefty payments totalling thousands of dollars over the next 10 years.
He’s not alone: the constituency office of Niagara Falls riding member of provincial parliament Wayne Gates says it has received several complaints from Niagara residents who feel they were tricked into signing similar agreements with the same company, Toronto-based Ontario Green Savings.
The province banned door-to-door sales calls by companies selling equipment such as furnaces and water heaters back in 2018 because it said people were being taken advantage of. Businesses can now only enter into a contract in the consumer’s home if the consumer has contacted the business ahead of time and invited them into their home for the purpose of entering into a contract.
Lipson alleges he received a call from a woman in December of 2021, claiming she was with the “Ontario Smart Rebate Program.”
“She said you can receive up to $5,000 in rebates for upgrading; we just need to send somebody to your house to look at your furnace to see if you qualify,” he said, adding he believed the woman was from a provincial rebate program. “Schmuck that I am, I made the appointment.”
Lipson said the next day, a salesperson from Green Savings showed up, inspected his furnace and told Lipson he did indeed qualify.
Lipson alleges the man convinced him to sign a lease contract for a new high-efficiency furnace for $113 a month including HST, for a period of 10 years. The first payment was to come out a month after the installation, which took place last December.
But Lipson said the salesperson told him verbally that he would qualify for a rebate of $150 a month for the furnace and that he’d be able to pocket the difference.
“They said it was good for the environment, that you’re doing something good and you’re going to save money,” he said.
The next day, Lipson alleges the salesperson returned and convinced him to sign an agreement for a new tankless water heater for $80.57 a month including taxes, over 36 months, with a balance owning at the end of payments of $8,755.84 for a total obligation of about $11,600.
According to Lipson, the salesperson again told him he’d be actually make money off the deal with a monthly rebate of $125.
Lipson said while his old furnace was just six years old and paid off, it was too good a deal to pass by.
“I was sold on the rebates,” he said. “Being a senior on a limited income, you get to save money.”
But when the monthly payments started coming out of his bank account, no rebates materialized. Lipson said he started calling the company but couldn’t get answers.
“You’re wondering what the hell is going on,” he said. “You’re waiting for the rebates. They kept saying they would look into it. (But) the rebates never came.”
Niagara This Week reached out to Ontario Green Savings multiple times for comment. The company responded once by email to say the query was “forwarded to the concerned department,” but provided no other comments or explanations.
The Niagara Regional police fraud unit, which Lipson also approached, said it couldn’t speak to specifics due to a police investigation and privacy. In an email to This Week, the unit said in some cases companies using door-to-door sales or leasing techniques for duct cleaning, driveway paving and heating and air conditioning equipment “involve questionable sales techniques that may or may not meet the threshold of a criminal offence.”
None of the agreements Lipson signed say anything in writing about rebates. An Ontario Green Savings brochure given to Lipson notes “Ontario Green Savings is not owned or affiliated with the Government of Ontario or the utility providers,” and notes “no rebates, incentives and other promises outside of the agreement.”
Lipson said the company placed a lien against his house, which companies can attach to a home when there is rental equipment as a form of security that the contract will be paid.
Shannon Mitchell with Wayne Gates’ office said the office has had a number of other Niagara residents in addition to Lipson, mostly older adults, approach the office to say they also signed contracts for new equipment with Ontario Green Savings.
“So many people in our community are stuck with the contracts,” she said. “The stories are heartbreaking. These are seniors who have worked their entire lives to save for their retirement and they’re losing it to a company acting unethically.”
Mitchell said Gates’ office tried repeatedly to contact Ontario Green Savings.
“We were never able to get a call or an email back from this company,” she said.
The office helped Lipson file a formal complaint with Consumer Protection Ontario, but that agency ultimately decided it wouldn’t pursue an investigation, said Mitchell.
She said she fears the cases brought to the attention of Gates’ office are just “the tip of the iceberg” and there may be many other Niagara residents who have signed similar contracts.
Lipson said he’s hoping he can find other people who also signed contracts with Ontario Green Savings in the hope there might be the potential for a class-action lawsuit.
Meanwhile, he feels trapped into making thousands of dollars in payments for the next decade.
“I got suckered into it,” he said. “I’m the stupid one.
“Who gives money away for free?”
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: After hearing about a Niagara Falls senior who felt he was tricked into agreeing to get a new furnace and hot water heater he says he didn’t even need, This Week looked into the impact it’s having on him and others in the community who might be in the same position.