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‘I was beginning to lose hope’: Woman battles bank for 2 years for information on her own account

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An Edmonton woman who spent two years battling her bank for information about her own account is defying a confidentiality agreement to go public about what happened, in a bid to shed light on a highly secretive system she says is stacked against the customer.

“Numerous phone calls, numerous emails. I documented everything,” Rhonda McMillan told Go Public during an interview at her home where she showed us boxes of paperwork — the result of her long fight with CIBC for a document she believed would confirm unauthorized activity on her account.

In 2016, McMillan noticed $691 had been moved from an account belonging to her and her husband to an account she had with her son which was closed a month earlier.

McMillan says the bank slip she fought two years to get appears to show that a CIBC manager and another employee signed their own names authorizing the transfer of the money, reopening the account without her knowledge or permission.

“It wasn’t our signatures and it shook us,” says McMillan.

She has no idea why the bank would do that, and may never know. After waiting months and months to get the document she wanted, she says the bank told her too much time had passed to get answers. 

Two years after money was transferred from her account, Rhonda McMillan still doesn’t know why the transaction occurred without her authorization. These are just some of the documents she has chronicling her fight with CIBC. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

But it’s not only the unauthorized transaction itself that concerns McMillan — it’s how hard she had to fight to get basic information about activity on her own account and get answers to what happened and why.

“I was beginning to lose hope. I’m pretty persistent, but I was getting worn down,” she says.

Secretive complaint system

The banking complaints system is surrounded by secrecy and dominated by the banks, says Wanda Morris, a consumer advocate with CARP.

“We’re at a crisis,” says Morris, who would like to see a major overhaul of the system. 

In order to get the document she was looking for, McMillan initially filed a complaint with CIBC’s ombudsman. 

The bank and its ombuds service told her she had to sign a confidentiality agreement, promising not to tell anyone what the document revealed, and not to disclose anything about the investigation or any settlement to anyone.

If they want to come after me … then bring it on.– Rhonda McMillan

McMillan  says she reluctantly agreed to sign the gag order, but contacted Go Public anyway, after receiving a copy of the bank slip for the transaction she says was carried out without her knowledge.

“If they want to come after me … then bring it on,” McMillan told Go Public in an email.

Both the bank’s internal ombudsman and the national independent ombuds service, OBSI, required Rhonda McMillan to sign confidentiality agreements. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Go Public asked CIBC specific questions about the case, but the bank didn’t offer an explanation. In a statement, a spokesperson wrote that CIBC “strongly disputes the nature of the allegations.”

“As the matter is going through a dispute resolution process, we are unable to comment further,” CIBC spokesperson Tom Wallis wrote.

‘No wrongdoing,’ but settlement offered

McMillan didn’t lose any money but the bank did offer a financial settlement.

“They just would say there’s no wrongdoing — we’re not admitting to any wrongdoing, but here’s our settlement,” McMillan said.

Unhappy with the results of the investigation by the bank’s ombudsman, McMillan escalated her case to the national independent Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI), and was again asked to sign another non-disclosure agreement. 

That investigation resulted in another settlement offer, but again, no explanation for why the money transfer was carried out without her knowledge. 

Lack of transparency

Canada’s banking complaints system needs to be more transparent, says Morris. 

Consumer advocate Wanda Morris of CARP says the current complaints system for banks is tilted in favour of financial institutions. (Rosa Marchitelli/CBC)

She says the system allows banks to choose which dispute resolution service will handle their customer complaints. ​

OBSI is a non-profit, independent consumer dispute service started by the federal government in 1996. It now only investigates two of Canada’s big banks — BMO and CIBC.

The three other big banks — Scotiabank, RBC and TD — jumped ship from OBSI and moved to ADR Chambers Banking Ombuds Office, a private company.

“We have a situation where essentially banks get to choose their referee,” says Morris. “And they’re consistently choosing the referee that investigates fewer complaints, that finds fewer of those complaints in favour of customers, and has less transparency about their findings.”

Neither OBSI nor ADR Chambers publicly releases the results of their investigations, the names of the banks involved or the amount of compensation handed out.

Sarah Bradley is the Ombudsman at OBSI, one of two external dispute resolution services used by banks in Canada. Banks are allowed to decide which service they use. (Gary Morton/CBC)

All banking consumer dispute services require non-disclosure agreements. Sarah Bradley, ombudsman at OBSI, says without the agreements, banks would be more cautious about taking part in investigations.

She wants to see one, non-profit, public service dispute resolution service that handles all banking complaints and is mandatory for all banks.

“The government of Canada should look at this issue very carefully. And it’s our view that the best interests of Canadian consumers would be served by having one ombudsman,” Bradley says.

Proposed legislation

Last week, the federal government introduced Bill C-86 (the Budget Implementation Act 2), which it says will improve consumer protection and make the banking complaints process more transparent.

If passed, it would:

  • Require banks to keep a record of all complaints and make the information available to the commissioner of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (but not public).
  • Publicly identify banks that commit serious breaches of their legal obligations.
  • Prohibit banks from using misleading terms regarding their complaints-handling procedures, including terms that suggest independence. That includes the use of the term ombudsman.
  • National dispute resolution services (OBSI and ADR Chambers) would have to publish on their website a summary of their final recommendations and the reasons for them.

The proposed legislation doesn’t include a plan for one independent dispute resolution service. 

“We expect all approved external complaint bodies to maintain a strong reputation for being operated in a manner consistent with the standards of good character and integrity, and to ensure that complaints are addressed in an impartial and independent manner,” Pierre-Olivier Herbert, press secretary for Bill Morneau, wrote in an email to Go Public.

Moved money to credit union

McMillan says the OBSI investigation is now over and she’s waiting to receive a financial settlement from the bank.

She’s now moved all of her family’s money out of CIBC to a credit union.  She started the process while trying to get the bank to hand over her account record — transferring money out little by little — while CIBC played what she calls “the procrastination game” with the document she wanted.

With files from Ana Komnenic

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Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.

We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.

We want to hear from people across the country with stories you want to make public.

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Window repair or replacement is the responsibility of the condo corporation

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If the windows in your condo are hazy, drafty, or have rotting frames, it’s an indicator that they need repairs or outright replacement.

However, under the Condominium Act, it is the responsibility of the condo’s board to carry out such changes as a replaced window is a common element.

“Under the Condominium Act, a declaration may alter the maintenance or repair obligations of unit owners and the corporation but cannot make unit owners responsible for repairs to the common elements,” said Gerry Hyman is a former president of the Canadian Condominium Institute and contributor for the Star.

“A declaration for a high-rise condominium invariably provides that the unit boundary is the interior surface of windows. That means that the entire window — whether it is a single pane or a double pane — is a common element. Necessary repairs or replacement of a broken pane is the obligation of the corporation.”

According to Consumer Reports, selecting an installing windows replacement can be very overwhelming for homeowners. Therefore, if you aren’t covered by your condo’s corporation, it would be necessary to hire professional hands.

Wood, vinyl and composite windows need to be tested on how they can withstand various natural elements. For wind resistance, a window can be very tight when it’s warm but get quite cold too—especially when it begins to leak a lot.

Whatever the case may be, the bottom line remains that replacement windows can save you heating and cooling costs, but it’s best not to expect drastic savings.

Additionally, while getting a new window might help you save on your electric and gas bills, due to their expensive cost, it may take a long time to offset their cost.

Mid-last-year, the government withdraw a $377 million Green Ontario program that provided subsidy on windows to installers and repairers. Window companies had to install energy-efficient windows in order to qualify for the government subsidy that pays for up to $500 of a $1,000 to $1,500 window.

Due to the largely generous subsidies from the government under the Green Ontario program, a lot of window dealers were fully booked for months—even after the program had ended.

“We’re fine with the program ending, we just need more time to satisfy consumers,” said Jason Neal, the executive director of the Siding and Window Dealer Association of Canada, the industry group representing window dealers in a report.

According to Neal, the Progressive Conservatives acted hastily, making massive changes with no prior notice.

“No notification was given to us by anyone,” he said, noting he learned about the change through one of his dealers.

“It’s created a ripple effect.If they had just given us notice we would have pushed that down the line from the manufacturer right into the dealer right down to the consumer.”

Neal noted that he wasn’t particularly sad to see the Green Ontario program end, as it was “the worst rebate program in the history of the window industry.”

“It’s been horrible,” he said. “$500 a window has created such hysteria.”

However, despite the program ending about a year ago, numerous homeowners have been contacting window dealers consistently with concerns that they might not be able to afford replacement windows without the government’s subsidy.

“I understand their concern,” said window dealer Chris George. “I would suggest they reach out to their local representative of the government in their riding and let them know about their concerns.”

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7 Vancouver Real Estate Buying Tips

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The real estate market in Vancouver is turning around for good for everyone looking to purchase a home.

Previously soaring prices are now beginning to ease up, making it a perfect time for buyers—with real estate agents already getting ready for a very busy spring and summer season.

However, before splashing cash on a new property, there are some very important tips you need to know to ensure you make the most of the buyer’s market.

Here are some few expert tips that would guide you when purchasing a home in the sometimes frustration Vancouver seller’s market.

  1. Get adequate financing

It is very important that before you make the move to purchase a property, you put into careful consideration your credit score.

Normally, home buyers with lower scores use the secondary mortgage market to finance their purchase, as they’re more likely to pay a higher interest rate.However, it is advisable to get loan approval long before purchasing the house. This way, you are fully aware of how much you are able to spend—but never be tempted to borrow the maximum amount of money available.

“What’s your mortgage payment that you’re comfortable with? And take into the fact the taxes you’re going to have to pay, if it’s a strata – what the maintenance fees are, if it’s a home what type of maintenance are you going to have to pay in the future?” said Phil Moore, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver in a report.

Always be careful of the type of loan you secure and ensure that you can comfortably afford it over a long period of time.

  1. Get a real estate agent

Buying a property without professional help is a very risky move and can be likened to choosing to represent yourself in court without a lawyer. While you might trust your negotiation skills, only realtors are permitted to present offers directly.

Therefore, it is necessary to get a professional real estate agent in the area to represent you. So, screen a few agents and select the best one who has in-depth knowledge of the markets and has a great reputation.

“They’re there to protect you. They’re there to walk you through each step of the process,” Moore said.

  1. Sign up for automated alerts

Most—if not all—realtors have access to the Vancouver real estate board’s database which is updated approximately two days before the public MLS website.

Therefore, you can request from your realtor to sign you up for automatic real-time alerts of all new listings. Doing this gives you an edge as you’re among the very first to know about new properties.

  1. Do a thorough inspection

After receiving an alert for a new listing, it is necessary to push almost immediately for an inspection from your realtor. In this current market, buyers now have time to make an inspection.

Making a quick inspection eliminates any surprises—as there could be major maintenance or repair issues that could spring up. Therefore, you can now table your offer based on the outcome of the inspection, with clauses about claiming your damage deposit back if everything isn’t as was advertised.

Additionally, if you notice that renovations were done, you need to be sure that it was permitted work and carried out appropriately. Failing to do this would ultimately lead to further cost down the line and simultaneously affect the resale value.

  1. Have a back-up plan

There’s always the possibility that everything may not go as smoothly as you’d want. From the inspection being a failureto the property not living up to your expectations—or not being able to agree on the closing date that matches with your needs.

However, a professional real estate agent will definitely help you get past all of these things. If you plan on selling the property as you buy, you can table that and make it part of the deal.

“You’ve got an option, especially in a buyer’s market: you can put in an offer subject to selling your place. So maybe you want to have a place lined up,” Moore added.

Additionally, building contingencies into your buying plan is necessary. Things such as unexpected delays in closing the deal, closing cost and moving costs that could result in added living expenses if that’s your permanent home.

  1. Don’t fall for the buyer frenzy

The Vancouver market buying frenzy that caused a serious climb in the prices a couple of years ago has ended. Thus, it is important not to get caught up in bidding wars with properties that have been deliberately under-priced—with the hope of initiating multiple offers.

“Some of the sellers have been on the market for over a year and they’re eager to sell. So what I’m saying to consumers is: you have a lot of choices, you’re in the driver’s seat, let’s go out and take a look at what’s available,” said Moore.

  1. Never be wary of multiple offers

When purchasing a property, don’t be afraid of multiple offers as you have the same opportunity as anybody else.

Typically, there are just a few offers below the asking price: a couple priced fully, and two or three above the asking price—depending on how close the fair market value is from the asking price.

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Do you know what kind of condo you’re buying?

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(NC) Condominiums can come in all shapes and sizes. But it’s important to know that not all condos are created equal when it comes to warranty coverage.

Whether you’re buying a condominium townhouse, loft-style two-bedroom or a high-rise studio, they are all classified as condominiums if you own your unit while at the same time share access (and the associated fees) for facilities ranging from pools and parking garages to elevators and driveways, otherwise known as common elements.

The most common types of condos are standard condominiums and common elements condominiums. The determination of how a condominium project is designated happens during the planning stage when the builder proposes the project and the municipality approves it.

When you’re in the market to buy, you need to know how your chosen condo is classified because it affects the warranty coverage under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act. Standard condominiums have warranty coverage for units and common elements, but common elements condominiums only have unit coverage.

How could this affect you as the owner? If your condo complex has underground parking and, for example, there are problems with leaks or a faulty door, the condo designation will determine whether there’s warranty coverage.

If your unit is a standard condominium development, then the common elements warranty may cover the repairs. If it’s a common element condominium development, then repairs might have to be covered by the condo corporation’s insurance, which could impact your condo fees or require a special assessment on all the owners.

To avoid surprises, you should have a real estate lawyer review the Declaration and Description attached to your purchase agreement to be sure that you know the designation and boundaries of the unit you’re looking to purchase. Find more information on the types of condos and their coverage at tarion.com.

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