Regulator steps in after Orléans homebuilder leaves customers in the lurch

Highbridge Construction's former headquarters in this Orléans strip mall now sits empty.  (Kimberley Molina/CBC - image credit)
Highbridge Construction's former headquarters in this Orléans strip mall now sits empty. (Kimberley Molina/CBC - image credit)

Ontario's home construction regulator has stepped in after an Orléans company suddenly ceased operations earlier this month, leaving customers high and dry.

The Home Construction Regulatory Authority (HCRA) has frozen Highbridge Construction's assets and suspended the company's licence.

"The HCRA issued the immediate suspension order to the licensee amid the HCRA's ongoing investigation to maintain and protect the public interest," the authority wrote. The suspension went into effect Feb. 16.

The HCRA is urging customers of the company to contact the authority immediately.

On Thursday, the Ottawa Police Service confirmed to CBC News its fraud unit is leading an investigation into the company.

CBC News has attempted to reach Highbridge but has received no response to numerous phone calls and emails.

Kimberley Molina/CBC
Kimberley Molina/CBC

In an automated email reply, Highbridge — which according to the HCRA has been licensed as ViloHam Trades Inc. since January 2021 — claims it's no longer able to meet its day-to-day cash requirements and is insolvent.

"We have been forced into this position as a result of the COVID pandemic and gross theft that occurred in the last half of 2021 and the beginning of 2022," the reply reads. "The theft resulted in significant [losses] to the company."

The message did not offer details about the claim of theft.

The company also said it "will not be voluntarily filing an assignment in bankruptcy" as it is "unable to pay the professional fees."

No word on deposits

In filings posted online, the HCRA accuses Highbridge of failing to comply with an inspection that included "demands for records and responses to inquiries relating to the status and location of deposit funds."

That failure to comply resulted in "an Immediate Compliance Order being issued along with the licence suspension and a Freeze Order requiring them to hold all assets and funds," the HCRA wrote.

According to the authority, the company had at least five new homes under construction when it announced it would cease operations. It's not known how many additional contracts the company has failed to fulfil, or what happened to the money it was paid.

"To date, the Licensee has failed to provide any documentation to demonstrate what happened to the purchasers' deposit funds," the HCRA wrote in its notice of proposal to revoke Highbridge's licence.

"[Highbridge] claims that the money is gone but will not provide the HCRA with any support for those claims."

Landlord owed $100K

Around the same time Highbridge announced its insolvency, the landlord of the Orléans strip mall where the company had its office posted a notice on the door saying it owes $100,000 in rent.

According to the notice, Highbridge's goods were seized and the building's locks had been changed.


Jake McDavid, who runs True Handyman Inc., said he was subcontracted by Highbridge to do some work in 2022, but ended up taking the company to small claims court over unpaid invoices.

"How is it possible to be a large construction company with a relatively nice storefront, with nice furniture and multiple staff and boardrooms and genuinely nice people to meet ... and project managers can't pay an invoice of $2,000?" McDavid asked.

According to the HCRA's order to freeze Highbridge's assets, possible outcomes could include provincial offences charges, administrative penalties or referral to its own discipline committee. Any money recouped through those means could be returned to customers.

In an email to clients sent earlier this month, Highbridge wrote that "knowing that we've dramatically affected people's lives is something that we are utterly devastated by and something that we will live with for the rest of our lives."