Homeowners can protect themselves from bad contractors

Homeowners can protect themselves from being scammed by rogue contractors by doing their homework, said the Canadian Home Builders' Association of New Brunswick.

The advice from association CEO Claudia Simmons came after CBC News uncovered four allegations of theft and incompetent work by contractor Mark Garland.

Simmons said the story from the latest victim is just one among many that have come to the attention of her office about problems with many contractors, "especially at this time of year, as many projects are coming to completion."

"I get calls every week from homeowners who have been duped, who are not happy with the job, who've had money stolen from them." 

Simmons said the association can listen to complainants, but her group can do very little to help them.

"Homeowners need to put themselves in the driver's seat of hiring a contractor they can trust but they also need to do some homework." 

This includes ensuring contractors, builders and renovators are qualified to do the job.  

Verify their credentials

Checking references is also important and Simmons said homeowners need to verify whether a contractor is a professional with an incorporated business as opposed to someone working for cash or just on weekends. 

She added homeowners need to verify that contractors have a business number, are registered with WorkSafe NB and have liability insurance. 

"One of the most important things the homeowner has to do is get it in writing."

The home builders' association said there is good information included in a detailed contract on the Canada Revenue Agency website including the scope of work, the timeline, and what will be paid for labour and HST. 

"If they are accepting cash or encouraging you to pay cash for labour, that should be a red light, a warning, bells should be going off in your head that they are working in the underground economy."

Simmons added homeowners should never hand cash to anyone without getting a receipt and there should only be a very small percentage of a deposit paid when the contract is signed. 

"Keeping things in writing ... goes a long way to helping consumers protect themselves against these sorts of crimes." 

Vetted memberships

Simmons said all members of the home builders' association have been vetted before their memberships are accepted. But Simmons added more regulation of residential construction is needed, along with a contractor registry. 

Steven Dawe

"What we need to see is government to institute a licensing program where builders, contractors have to renew annually."

Simmons said this would include proving contractors are operating a legitimate business and are complying with best practices, including customer protection.

The provincial home builders' association is waiting for a meeting with government to hopefully move forward on its suggestions, Simmons added. 

"As more of these stories come to the front I'm sure it's going to urge government to maybe take a very serious look at what we're proposing here." 

No complaints to add to website

Peter Moorhouse, executive director of the Better Business Bureau for the Atlantic provinces, said there were hundreds of hits on the business profile of controversial contractor Mark Garland, indicating people were interested in finding out more about him and his business.

Moorhouse added that this number is 10 times higher than that of a comparable company, another non-accredited contractor in Moncton. While the other company had about 65 hits on its profile over the past year, Moorhouse said Garland had over 600.

However, Garland's profile did not include any of the complaints from homeowners claiming they had lost money and were left with unfinished work.

Leo Noel

"Unfortunately, none of the people affected by his actions have come to us with a complaint," Moorhouse told CBC New Brunswick News. "None of that is published on our website so we can't report that out to the public." 

A search of Mark Garland's name on the Better Business Bureau website indicates he is not accredited by the organization and has no rating. It also shows an alert on his listing saying attempts to reach by mail in September 2018 were unsuccessful and invites anyone with information to contact the BBB.

Moorhouse said there was value in the continued reporting of Garland's actions to police, adding if one report doesn't promote action, then numerous reports could make a difference. 

He said he understood customer frustration at hearing police say they couldn't take action in one particular case.

He added, however, that something could be done "if the police were to receive five, 10, 12, 15 reports about the same individual or the same circumstance.

"The police, like the Better Business Bureau, then looks at a pattern and can take a little bit more decisive action." 

Some have taken Mark Garland to small claims court and won rulings against him but have been unable to collect any money.