Sins of the contractor

The majority of renovation contractors would appear to be concentrated at the shallow end of the contractor gene pool. A Money Magazine article carried on CNN would seem to confirm that. It's been suggested that 80% of contractors in Canada are incompetent or just plain con men.


The consequences of having a dishonest, utterly incompetent reno contractor on a substantial project can be crushing. This one's probably the worst we've heard of:

- An inventor had for years been tinkering with an idea to reduce costs and improve reliability of communications on the high seas. The concept was sufficiently solid that the National Research Council of Canada gave him a grant to do it. The inventor got to work, but then, unfortunately, got involved with a renovation contractor for a home reno. The contractor went 50% over budget, 50% over schedule and produced garbage work. He was fired and a new contractor brought in to fix the problems and finish the job. The original contractor - a "cash under the table" hustler - demanded $60,000 after being fired. He dropped it to $25,000 (didn't get that, either), filed a bogus lien, and is currently dragging the inventor through a third year in court. The court has already ordered the lien thrown out but the contractor is now trying for a "breach of contract" ruling. The homeowner and his family spent 8 months in a hotel, had their savings wiped out and watched the communications idea die. This contractor didn't just clean out bank accounts - he killed dreams.

Here are some of the more mundane, undisputed transgressions perpetrated by members of the home renovation business in Nova Scotia in recent months:

-"Free, no obligation estimate" is a phrase which we hear a lot and usually take for granted. Not so with reno contractors. One of them was asked to provide an estimate for building a deck. He had a look at it, then said he was going to send someone over to have a look and recommend the best way to proceed. #2 person showed up, made some sketches and left. A couple of weeks later (still no estimate from the contractor) #2 person emailed to say he'd be submitting an invoice for his time spent looking at the project. This came as a surprise to the homeowner who had not been told that any costs would be attached to an estimate. It seems inappropriate in this day and age that a consumer should have to ask if the estimate he's' looking for is free. So ask the question before you discuss anything else. If there's a fee, find someone else. Our recommendation: if you get sucked into a paid estimate, insist that the invoice says "full and final" and then pay it. Have absolutely no further communication with either the contractor or the #2 person. This is the kind of thing that could turn into a lien on your property, and if you've already been through the bogus lien grinder once, this would probably push you over the edge. Suck it up, chalk another one up to the Nova Scotia 80% Swamp of contractor free-for-all and move on.
- Contractor demanded $1000 from client so he could buy liability insurance.
- Refused to provide written, signed copy of a contract for work to be done. Clients should have known better but were under serious time constraints.
- Claimed progress payments for work which hadn't been completed - or even started, in one case.
- Told client he'd been installing siding for 25 years. Unfortunately, he was deficient in other areas and got fired. New contractor had to remove the just-installed siding because it was falling off.
- Signed a contract to renovate the exterior of a house, including replacing eavestrough as needed. At the first sign of rain, several joints leaked, hardware was missing, and some sections disconnected and fell to the ground.
- Claimed progress payment for having fully upgraded the electrical system. Turned out that service panel did not have enough vacant slots for additional breakers, and neither panel nor matching breakers were available. New contractor had to replace the service panel.
- Left several water lines unconnected. New contractor found all but one, and it was in the kitchen ceiling. When water was turned on, entire kitchen ceiling flooded and had to be replaced. A $17,000 custom kitchen - including appliances - installed by a 3rd party came within seconds of being a write-off. Kitchen had been presented as fully complete and progress payment made.
- Got shut down by Occupational Health & Safety and told the client that he - the client - had to pay a $1500 fine immediately (clients are not liable, and in this case there was no fine).
- Got shut down by building inspector for faulty workmanship and missing permits.
- Cost over $30,000 to have a new contractor come in to correct sloppy workmanship and building code violations introduced by first contractor.
- Stole client's credit card to pay off his trade account at the local building materials supplier (the client caught on; the building supplier reimbursed the client).
- After a 7-month rampage of incompetence, theft, fraud, missed deadlines, OH&S shutdowns, building code violations, and over-budget indifference, got fired. He put a bogus lien on his ex-client's house, followed with a Statement of Claim. He was supposed to serve the papers on his ex-client within 30 days, but went several days past the deadline. The judge gave him a pass on that one when it was raised many months later. He told his lawyer that he'd been trying to serve the papers almost every day but was unable to locate the ex-client. In fact, he went to work on a project directly across the street from the ex-client and they saw each other almost every day during the 30-day window. The ex-client was retired and was mostly home all day, every day. The contractor eventually got his lawyer to serve the papers. He and his lawyer subsequently parted company. The contractor did not finish the project across the street either (someone else did). An Appeals Court judge ultimately dismissed the fraudulent lien. In some states, that could have put the contractor in prison for 10 years.
- Borrowed several thousand dollars from client to carry him through a cash flow problem (shut down by building inspectors for several weeks while he procrastinated with permit applications), and did not pay it back.
- Stole household goods and building materials including an antique silver heirloom tray. About $400 worth of LED light bulbs. Fiberglas insulation. Antique but entirely usable door. New Kohler window.
- Contractor was fired first thing on a Monday morning. He promised to be out by noon. Time dragged on and the homeowner threatened to have his tools put out on the front lawn. He finally vacated the premises on Friday. He filed a bogus lien exactly 60 days later. The homeowner's lawyer said he missed the filing deadline by 5 days. The contractor's lawyer argued that because he was still on the premises on Friday, he didn't actually "know" that he was fired until that Friday. The clash between legal jargon and the Queen's English went to court where the contractor lost his bid to maintain a bogus lien.
- Short of cash, wanted client to pay his crew payroll or else he'd stop work.
- Demanded some - or most - payments in cash (no HST); refused to provide receipts.
- Provided an HST # which was for a company that had disappeared many years ago.
- Refused to honour his warranty, eg when deck collapsed because corner footing was missing.
- Insisted that a Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector be installed. Used a 23-year-old junk-box 115 VAC relic. When there's only one CO detector in a house, codes require that it be in or beside sleeping area. Bedroom in this house was on 3rd floor - he installed it in the basement. Detector caught fire in April 2016. Burning plastic really smells so luckily the homeowner noticed it and unplugged the detector.
- Filed a fraudulent lien which was ordered removed by a judge after some legal wrangling. The homeowner is pushing to have the contractor charged with perjury under the Criminal Code, a recommended practice in Alberta, for example. In some US states, contractors who file bogus liens can go to jail for up to ten years.

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