Finishing Touches

Emotional Costs
The clients - who ultimately lost two years of their lives and their savings because of Yvan Haince - are sharing this story so that others can be aware of the pitfalls of the renovation business. In Nova Scotia, there is no mechanism to protect homeowners from renovation contractors who do not have the necessary resources, in finances, skills, and integrity, to complete a project on budget, on time, and within the rules. On very rare occasions, contractors are called to account for their behaviour. There is no known case of a contractor being charged with perjury, for example - an obvious offense when you swear to an affidavit to bolster a fraudulent lien. As mentioned earlier, Nova Scotia's lack of regulation of reno contractors makes it open season on homeowners.

There are reputable home renovators out there, but you have to go looking for them.

Spending 7 months in a hotel living out of a couple of suitcases inflicts an entirely different mind-set than a normal hotel stay - even for just 30 days. When you're told every few weeks to calm down, that you'll be out of there in a few weeks, you hold on. But after a few months, it becomes a combination of prison and homeless shelter. Whenever someone like Haince gives you another "guaranteed completion date," you just want to stick a "For Sale, as-is" sign out front and walk away from the whole thing.

When you fire him, things will probably get worse. If your contractor files a false lien - as Haince did - you can look forward to about two years of legal wrangling and $20,000 in legal bills. Haince - according to his ex-lawyer - has no money, so whatever damages may be awarded will probably never be collected. The contractor's legal costs can easily be a small fraction of those incurred by  homeowners, as discussed here. You will get the lien cleared but that is probably the only thing you'll get from the court.

Clearing a fraudulent lien can be a messy process. But there's a silver lining - once a lien has been proven to be fraudulent, the contractor is open to some potentially serious consequences, and at this point - whether it's 75 days or 10 years after the project is finished - the homeowner will be looking for blood. And it won't matter if the "contractor" is broke or or not.

A homeowner who has been seriously screwed over by an unscrupulous and/or incompetent contractor can be a dangerous creature. He has options: Small Claims Court, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, Collection Agencies, the Canada Revenue Agency, and full-blown criminal charges. And of course, the Internet.

And let's not forget the media. There have been numerous much-publicized collapses of balconies and decks, for example, in Nova Scotia with accompanying injuries, usually caused by sloppy workmanship. Crucifying contractors in various media outlets for this and other transgressions has become a blood-sport. Which ties in nicely with the story.

The clients in this project failed to follow the rules of home renovation - not surprising, since no one had explained the rules to them. Here's what they'll do differently next time:

Do the appropriate due diligence before selecting a renovation contractor; contact the Nova Scotia Home Builders Association for confirmation of membership, check the BBB for membership and standing, ask for proof of Workers Compensation and liability insurance, ask for and evaluate references, ask for photos of projects which they have completed similar to what the homeowner is contemplating and check for trades qualifications such as appropriate licenses. The last two points - qualifications and licenses - are moot in Nova Scotia because you don't need either to call yourself a contractor - that has to change.  Consider the appearance of the candidate and the vehicle she/he drives. Contact the city building department and describe the renovation project, and ask if a permit is needed (a permit is always needed if electrical or plumbing changes are made, and/or if a load bearing wall is moving or living space is being added).

This may sound onerous, but it'll benefit you in the end. If the clients in this story had taken a few hours or a day to exercise the due diligence described above, they would have been at least a $100,000 ahead of the game. Losing $100,000 because you didn't do your homework, is an expensive education.

This story may read like the rant of a frustrated customer, unfairly tarring all reno contractors with the same brush. But the smear is justified. According to a story carried on CNN  (29 May 2015), complaints against renovation contractors rank near the top of all consumer complaints to the Better Business Bureau, the Bureau of Consumer Protection, and many other agencies that track consumer complaints.

At no point in the lien filing process - fraudulent or otherwise - can the homeowner present his side of the story (because he probably won't even know the filing is taking place). Eventually, the lien finds its way to court, and the contractor has 30 days to serve papers on the homeowner. In the case of a false lien, that's when the knives come out.  A lien - whether real or invented - is a serious problem. When the homeowner tries to sell the property or use it for collateral against financing, he won't be able to do either one. If the homeowner has a mortgage, the mortgagor will take steps to remove the lien and that process is usually not pleasant.

Once the project is finished but before the 10% lien holdback is paid out, have your lawyer do a title search on your property. If someone has placed a lien on it, for whatever reason, including no reason, get it sorted out now. Fixing it years from now is going to be much more complicated. You're supposed to pay a lien holdback 60 days after the work is completed, but you don't have to start paying interest on it until 65 days after the work is completed. And don't forget that if there are any minor deficiencies, you can withhold part of the lien holdback forever. The definition of "minor deficiencies" is spelled out in Section 13 of the Lien Act.

As discussed in detail on a related web site, Nova Scotia is one of the few places in North America where residential reno contractors remain unregulated, uncontrolled, frequently un-trained, and almost always escape consequences for dishonest and incompetent conduct. There are no checks and balances to prevent crooked contractors from filing fraudulent liens. Given the cost of correcting defective workmanship and the legal cost of clearing fraudulent liens, and given that about 80% of renovation contractors are crooked or incompetent, or both, a home renovation project has a high chance of becoming a financial disaster for many families.

As depressing and  disturbing as the Yvan Haince story may be, it's by no means unique. A Google search for "crooked contractors" (in quotes) will get you over 50,000 hits. One of the more distressing stories was in The Walrus magazine in June 2017 - This story also reinforces the power of websites.

The ongoing financial and emotional harm being inflicted on unsuspecting families by crooked and incompetent contractors is only going to be corrected by legislative action at the provincial level. Existing laws - few as they are - must be enforced. Prosecutors almost never charge a contractor with perjury, fraud, or theft, apparently because police are fond of calling these actions "civil matters." Contractors must be required by law to be trained and licensed before being turned loose on the general public, and the consequences for ripping off the public should be substantial. Until that happens, victims will continue to name and expose crooked and incompetent contractors in an effort to protect other home owners. Public contractor review sites have sprung up, like this one and this one.

This website has been online since March 5, 2015. There have been no communications from Yvan Haince or his designated representative(s) questioning, protesting, or in any way taking issue with its contents, addressed either to the clients discussed here, or to the registered owner of the site.

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