The group complaint concerned the information provided about the living costs in marketing material for new buildings. Peab Oy had built a row house in the city of Raisio and had given a substantially lower-than-actual figure for the maintenance fee charged by the housing company managing the building. As a result, the residents’ housing costs were higher than what they had initially estimated when buying their homes.
The Finnish Consumer Ombudsman requested that Peab Oy pay the residents a rebate amounting to between slightly over 6,000 euros and almost 9,000 euros, depending on the size of the apartment. The group complaint concerned 11 shareholders of the housing company managing the building.
To support her claim, the Consumer Ombudsman presented a budget according to which the costs in the housing company totalled 33,240 euros in 2008 and the income statement for 2008 according to which the costs had amounted to 40,354.92 euros. The Consumer Ombudsman also presented a statement of a long-time housing company manager according to which the budgeted maintenance costs were exceptionally low.
Peab Oy rejected the allegations that it had provided misleading information. According Peab Oy, the increase in the maintenance fee was due to unforeseen expenses and the fact that the housing company had mismanaged its affairs. Peab Oy presented a detailed report on the cost increases and exceptional cost items in the housing company.
The Finnish Consumer Disputes Board stated that for future maintenance fees, the financial plan is of tentative nature and an estimate that cannot be expected to be fully binding. The Board was of the view that the calculations produced as a basis for the financial plan were appropriate and accurate.
Based on the evidence presented to it, the Consumer Disputes Board was of the view that the difference between the estimated and actual maintenance costs and fees was mostly a result of unexpected cost factors covering the financial year 2008 that Peab Oy could not be expected to take into account in advance. The Consumer Disputes Board was of the view that the Finnish Housing Transactions Act was not violated against in any of the housing transactions in question and recommended that no rebate be paid.
Group complaint and class action are special supervisory instruments
Starting in 2007, the Finnish Consumer Ombudsman has been able to initiate group complaints for the consideration of the Consumer Disputes Board. Group complaints are intended for situations in which a large number of consumers are engaged in a dispute with the same company in relation to the same matter. The Consumer Ombudsman files one application on behalf of the whole group. If the parties cannot reach agreement, the group complaint allows the dispute to be solved in a flexible manner and free of any cost risks.
The case involving Peab Oy was the first time that group complaint was used in Finland. Class action, which is initiated in court, was introduced in 2007 but has not yet been used in Finland.
In Sweden, an important decision in the country’s first class action case was recently made as the Swedish Consumer Ombudsman received a decision from the Swedish Supreme Court in favour of damages. The case that involves more than 2,000 people and has been initiated against a power company has been going on for years. Even though the permit for class action was received in 2008, the case had already been pending since 2004. A district court will still consider the matter and determine the amount of damages paid to each plaintiff.