Catherine Freeman says she's heard a lot of excuses by the owner of Hardwall Outdoor Living and Brico Services as to why he couldn't complete the work she hired him to do at her southeast Calgary home more than a year ago.
His truck broke down. His equipment isn't working. He had a death in the family. He gave his crew the long weekend off.
Each time, she says, owner Brian Pirot would set a new start date, but then would have to rebook for one reason or another.
Now she says she's getting even more excuses as to why he won't return her deposit of nearly $4,000.
"I believed him until they started piling up," said Freeman.
She hired him in June 2019 but finally fired him last month.
Freeman says she has since learned she is not the only one frustrated by the repeated delays and is fighting to get her deposit back.
Freeman has connected through social media with three other people, including a Calgary lawyer, to file a statement of claim seeking their deposits for work not done and damages.
They've also heard from other alleged victims who just want to move on and don't want to pursue legal action against Pirot.
"They left our yard torn up with our fence ripped out and our patio ripped up and they never came back" said Randa Salem.
She says they gave Pirot nearly $5,500 before firing him.
Salem says she ended up hiring another company to finish the work.
Pirot says the job was nearly done before he was fired. He says he just had to put the fence back.
Salem says some patio work was also left unfinished.
Pirot blames weather, lack of employees
CBC News reached out to Pirot, who says he is aware he owes deposits to about five people.
"I know I owe these customers money back, I don't dispute that," Pirot said.
He says bad weather and a lack of employees have led to repeated delays.
"It's been a really hard year for us this year, COVID has really kicked our ass," said Pirot.
He says he's having trouble finding people who want to work when they are receiving CERB.
And as for the weather, he says rain can set work back for three days, because the ground has to dry out for his crews to proceed with stone work.
Legal action underway
In the meantime, the homeowners are proceeding through the courts.
One of the alleged victims is Cyndy Morin, a lawyer at Resolve Legal.
Morin hired Pirot in June to build two raised stone flower beds with a custom fireplace at her place in southwest Calgary.
She says she gave him about $2,700 to start the job but after repeated delays and no work done she demanded her deposit back in early August. Morin says she is still waiting.
Now her law firm, Resolve Legal, is taking action. It filed a statement of claim in August.
"Anybody who has had a loss as a result of this guy coming in and just taking money and not doing work, we'd add them to our claim, and we'd advance the legal claim free of charge, pro bono," said Josh Wasylyciw, a lawyer at Resolve Legal.
Morin reported their concerns to the Calgary Police Service, as well as the RCMP, because two of the alleged victims live in Cochrane.
Calgary police confirm they are investigating. RCMP also say they are looking into these allegations.
Licensed prepaid contractors
Only licensed prepaid contractors are supposed to be collecting deposits before work is completed in Alberta.
A list can be found on Service Alberta's website.
Pirot acknowledges he is not a licensed prepaid contractor, but he asks for money to purchase materials up front.
His contracts state he needs a 30 per cent deposit.
I'm not going to divulge what I pay for product.... Nobody has a right to know what I'm paying for stuff. - Brian Pirot, owner of Hardwall Outdoor Living and Brico Services
The homeowners say that even if the money is for materials as Pirot says, they would like a receipt to show what was purchased. They say they have repeatedly asked but Pirot declines.
"I'm not going to divulge what I pay for product.… Nobody has a right to know what I'm paying for stuff."
In the meantime, Freeman says she thought she had done her due diligence before hiring Pirot.
She says she checked his references, his business licence, his insurance and the Better Business Bureau for any complaints.
But she says she didn't realize she had to check to see if he had a licence to be a prepaid contractor.
"If there was a contractor asking for a deposit and they don't have that licence, already you know they are doing something wrong," said Freeman.
Now she wants others to learn from this experience.
Freeman has since filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and Alberta consumer protection, and has left reviews online.
Pirot says he is trying to return the materials in order to pay back the deposits before things proceed too far down the road in court.