Door-to-door sales and home service contracts

Know your rights when you sign a contract at your door. Learn about avoiding common door-to-door scams for water heaters, snow removal, lawn care, home heating, and other services.

Ask the right questions with door-to-door water heater contracts

  • Can the contract be renewed without my consent?
  • Can you leave the contract with me so I can review it?
  • Are there any fees to cancel this new contract?
  • Am I due for an upgrade from my existing supplier?
  • If I want to cancel my contract with my existing supplier, will there be any fees?
  • Will they charge me to come and remove my current water heater?
  • Is it more cost effective for me to buy a water heater? 
Photo of Sheldon holding a contract form

Your rights when you buy at the door

The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) gives you special rights when you buy something in your home that costs more than $50.

  • you have the right to cancel a contract for any reason within a 10 calendar-day cooling-off period
  • you must get a written contract. Under the CPA, a consumer contract has to include specific information about the goods or service and your rights as a consumer. If it doesn’t, you can cancel the contract within 1 year of signing it
  • any deliveries must be made on time

Cancel a contract under the Consumer Protection Act.

Before you hear a sales pitch

When you open your door to a salesperson, remember:

  • ask for photo ID and get the name of the person and the business
  • never share personal information (For example, an electricity or gas bill)
  • if you ask a salesperson to leave, they must leave right away. If you feel unsafe, call local police  
  • look at the company name on the salesperson’s business card and promotional material and see if it matches the company name on the proposed contract
  • do not rely on a salesperson’s opinion that your water heater is unsafe or should be replaced
  • local utility companies, municipalities, government agencies or regulatory organizations don’t send salespeople door-to-door 
  • you do not have to sign a contract at that time

Know the term of a contract before you sign

Read a contract carefully and know your rights under the Consumer Protection Act.

Ask these questions before you sign any door-to-door contract. 

  • how long is the contract for?
  • will the business automatically renew your contract without your consent? For example, does it say “without your prior consent”?
  • when and how can you get out of the contract?
  • are there any cancellation fees or other added costs?

Water heater sales and rentals

Most complaints about water heater sales and rentals are about unclear or misleading contracts. 

Avoid signing a misleading water heater contract by:

  • never signing a contract on the spot. If a door-to-door salesperson tries to pressures you to sign a contract right away, tell them no
  • making sure all fees, charges and warranties are explained in the contract. This includes rental, installation, repair and service fees
  • making sure that the name of the company is the same in your contract, on the salesperson’s business card and on all the promotional material offered by the salesperson
  • reading your contract fully and reviewing your consumer rights before you sign

Also, check if there are any costs or special terms for getting out of the contract after your 10-day cooling-off period. For example, you may have to pay for:

  • all monthly rental payments
  • the cost of “buying out” or removing the water heater
  • charges for excessive wear or use of the water heater

You should also remember that if you sign a new water heater rental contract, you will have to end your existing contract with your current supplier. There may be fees for ending your current contract and having your existing water heater removed.

Remember, you may also be eligible for a water heater upgrade from your current supplier. Call them and check your options before upgrading with a new supplier.   

When you buy a home, you may be taking on the responsibility for an existing water heater contract that comes with the home. Ask your real estate agent or your lawyer.

File a complaint about a water heater supplier or rental.

Snow removal

Be aware of snow removal scams. In these scams, a con artist takes payment for a whole season of snow removal and never comes back.

To avoid these scams:

  • check with your municipality to see if snow removal companies need to have a licence. If so, ask to see a licence
  • check the reputation of the company with family, friends, the Better Business Bureau, and our Consumer Beware List
  • always get a written contract
  • keep deposits at no more than 10%
  • never pay for a whole season of snow removal unless you have a good relationship with a reputable company

File a complaint about a snow removal company.

Lawn care

Most complaints about lawn care contracts are about what services the company is supposed to supply. A lot of times, this happens when a consumer has set up services over the phone.

Sometimes, consumers complain that they are getting services they didn’t order. Or, they say they are being charged for a service that they did not ask for.

Avoid these problems by:

  • not dealing with a company or salesperson during a random sales call. If you call a company to ask about its services, make sure to end the call by clearly saying that you were only asking for information
  • demanding a written estimate that shows what services you would be getting, when you should expect these services and how much they will cost
  • paying special attention to anything in a contract that talks about renewal or continuous service. Sometimes lawn care contracts give the business the right to automatically renew a contract the following year unless you cancel in writing by a specific time
  • making sure you agree with all the terms and conditions of the contract

Under the Consumer Protection Act, you do not have to pay for services that you didn’t order. If you get a bill for services you didn’t order, write a complaint letter to the business.

If writing to the business does not resolve the problem, you can file a complaint with the Ministry of Consumer Services.

Heating and energy

You do not have to sign a home energy contract. However, you should know who supplies your electricity or natural gas and how much energy you use every month.

The Energy Consumer Protection Act protects consumers from unfair or misleading energy companies.

Companies that sell energy contracts must be licenced by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) and must obey Ontario’s laws and rules. 

The OEB also has information on:

  • what to consider before signing an energy contract
  • your rights and responsibilities
  • the rules around how energy contracts can be renewed

Read about energy contracts from the OEB.

Contact the OEB if you have a complaint about a home energy company.

Carbon offsets

Be aware that there are questionable carbon offset programs that are sold door-to-door for a profit.

Complaints about carbon offsets are often from consumers who did not get a copy of their contract after signing up for an offset program. This is a violation of your rights under the Consumer Protection Act.

Also, carbon offsets are often sold as long-term fixed contracts that can lock you into monthly payments for as long as 5 years.

Beyond the 10-day cooling-off period, a lot of door-to-door contracts do not give an option to end a contract or there’s a large fee to end the contract. 

Before you sign a contract for a carbon offsets, make sure:

  • the offsets are real and can be verified (For example, ask if the offsets will be audited by an independent 3rd party)
  • you know how the offsets are certified
  • you know what kind of offsets you are buying (For example, an investment in wind or solar power)
  • the contract doesn’t lock you in for the long-term

Also, know that buying carbon offsets:

  • will cost you extra
  • is voluntary and not required by the government

If you are being offered carbon offsets by an energy company, make sure it is licenced by the Ontario Energy Board.

Phone and long distance services

Contact the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) if you have a complaint about:

  • service delivery (For example, interruptions to service, or if your service wasn’t set up)
  • billing errors or contract disputes
  • if your long distance telephone company is switched to another without your permission

Read about your right when signing a contract for wireless services.

Updated: November 27, 2014