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What are cooling off periods?

It sometimes happens that when we buy something, we realize a little later the item is not what we wanted and want to return it.

If you purchase something at a store, there is usually a return policy. However, what happens when the purchase is much larger, say you’re buying a condominium, or you’re making another large purchase in which contracts are involved. Can you cancel the contract without consequences?

Most contracts have clauses and conditions meaning if either is unfulfilled or breached the purchase falls through. However, if the contract is air-tight, a consumer may have an out through the cooling off period.

What is a cooling off period?

A cooling off period is an automatic cancellation period for certain types of contracts. Which contracts/deals offer cancellation periods depends on the province or territory. If the province or territory provides for a cooling off period then you have one whether the company informs you of it or not.

A cooling off period is defined the ability to cancel the contract for any reason during a specific period of time.

Not all contracts have a cooling off period and usually cooling off periods apply to only certain kind of contracts for items and services such as health clubs, natural gas, dating clubs, credit, electricity and door-to-door sales, funeral and cemetery services and condominium purchases.

It’s always best to review your contract and contact the consumer affairs office for your region to find out, whether you are entitled to a cooling off period, to which products and services it applies, and the time span for the cooling off period.

For example, in Alberta a consumer has ten days to cancel a contract made with a door-to-door salesperson.

Cooling off period for new condominiums

In many provinces, if you purchase a condo you will get a certain number of days to reconsider your purchase. If during that time you decide to withdraw your offer you can do so usually without penalties.

Generally though, the cooling off period applies to newly built condominiums only, and usually you can cancel the deal for any reason during the cooling off period.

Also be aware of when the cooling off period starts. Usually, the clock starts running from the time the buyer receives a copy of the fully signed purchase agreement or the disclosure statement but when the clock starts can vary.

It’s often a good idea to either consult the condominium act for your province or territory or ask a lawyer to clarify the conditions of the cooling off period.

If I have the right to a cooling off period and I intend to cancel the purchase within that time, how should I do it?

Where possible you should make your intention to withdraw your offer for whatever you’ve purchased in writing within the cooling off period, so that if the company refuses to honour your request you have evidence that you tried to withdraw from the deal before the cooling off period expired.

Should the company, vendor, or whomever else you have the contract with refuse to honour the withdrawal you should consult with a lawyer.

Read more:

Read the fine print – Office of Consumer Affairs

Contracts Canadian Consumer Handbook