What are my rights when I rent or buy a hot water heater?

Question: 
What are my rights when I rent or buy a hot water heater?
Answer: 

Water heater rentals are among the top 10 types of consumer complaints received by the Ministry of Consumer Services. So on April 1, 2015, some new rules came into effect just for door-to-door water heater contracts.

When someone comes to the door

Many people find it harder to say no to a salesperson at their door than to walk out of a store without buying anything. That's why Ontario's Consumer Protection Act has special rules for door-to-door sales. But there are also practical ways consumers can protect themselves.

The first thing to do is ask to see the salesperson's photo identification, and get the name of the salesperson and the business.

Consumers should also ask the salesperson to leave a copy of the unsigned contract so they can read it over and think about it. If the salesperson insists that everything has to be done that day, the consumer can say no and tell them to leave.

What has to go in a written contract

Suppliers must put certain information in the written contract, including:

  • their names and contact information
  • a list of all charges
  • if the water heater is used or reconditioned

The contract must have a special cover page written by the government. It has the Consumer Protection Ontario logo in the top left corner, and contains information about consumer rights and tips on what to think about before signing.

A rental contract or lease must show:

  • the total rental cost for 10 years, even if the contract is not for that long, and
  • the retail price to buy the same heater.

This is to help consumers decide whether to rent or to buy.

The contract must also include a warranty that the water heater will work properly and not leak, for at least the whole term of the contract.

If the contract does not include all the required information, the consumer can cancel it up to a year after signing it.

Cooling-off period

The most important protection that consumers have in door-to-door sales is what's sometimes called a "cooling-off period". This is the right to simply change their mind after signing a contract.

For most door-to-door sales, the cooling-off period is 10 days. But for water heaters, it lasts for 20 days after the consumer receives a copy of the signed contract.

"Verification" phone call

The law also gives consumers a chance to cancel the agreement without having to take any action. This happens when the seller's company telephones the consumer to ask if they want to "verify", or confirm, that they want to stay with the contract.

The company must make this call no sooner than the first day after the contract was signed and no later than the fifteenth day after it was signed. The person making the call cannot be the same person who came to the door.

Unless the consumer clearly states during this call that they want to verify the contract, the contract is automatically cancelled. And even if the consumer does verify the contract, they still have the full 20-day cooling-off period to cancel.

There are 2 exceptions. The seller does not have to call the consumer to verify if:

  • the consumer contacted the seller first, or
  • the old water heater has been recalled or shut off for safety reasons.

No installation during the cooling-off period

Until the cooling-off period is over, the seller is not allowed to take any steps to remove the old water heater or deliver or install the new one.

If they do, the consumer does not have to pay anything. If the consumer has already paid, they have one year to demand a full refund.

The same 2 exceptions listed above apply here as well.

For help and information

Consumer Protection Ontario has information about:

  • water heater contracts
  • how to cancel
  • how to make a consumer complaint

Some community legal clinics or law school legal clinics can help with consumer law problems. To find the nearest clinic, visit the Legal Aid Ontario website.

Resource notes: 

For more information on your rights as a consumer see CLEO's Consumer Law Serires.

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