Rogues' Gallery

Over the last few years, crucifying crooked contractors has become somewhat of a blood sport in the media. Yvan Haince hasn't made it to the 6 o'clock news yet, but his turn is coming. Here are some news clips of the more memorable characters which, if nothing else, remind us that you really need to watch your step in dealing with reno contractors - especially in Nova Scotia.

Walrus magazine is perceived as the Canadian version of Harper's, The Atlantic or The New Yorker. Its position as a respected literary magazine is undisputed. They don't bother with trivia, so when they publish a story called "The Handyman from Hell" you can be assured that they see this matter as socially significant. After reading this story, you won't just think that many reno contractors are psychopaths - you'll know.

Yvan Haince - who calls Chester, NS home - appears to have a deep disrespect for rules and authority. On a single project, he racked up 7 violations with the Occupational Health and Safety Board. It didn't cost him anything, but immediately after being cited, he told his clients that he was facing a $1500 fine and told the clients that they were liable and had to reimburse him right now. A call to OHSA revealed that there was no fine, and the clients would not have been liable in any case.

Shane Murphy is a homeowner in Halifax who got deeply entangled in the Nova Scotia contractor free-for-all. In NS, contractor misconduct is almost never prosecuted, and after receiving $145,000 from Murphy, the contractor declared bankruptcy and walked away unscathed. It cost Murphy another $75,000 to finish the job. Interestingly, no one in the media wanted to identify the contractor.

Steven Brittain - like Yvan Haince, is also a Chester, Nova Scotia resident. He reportedly has at least 16 court judgments totaling about $100,000 against him but continues to advertise his business. Steven made it to, not a very prestigious place to hang your hat. As is the typical NS approach to crooked contractors, many of his victims tried to file complaints with the RCMP but they refused to pursue the matter, saying it was a civil matter.

What is it with Chester, NS? Even the realtors can't seem to stay out of trouble.

20 km SW of Chester we find Lunenberg - another hotspot for crooked contractors. When contractors quote on a reno project, they usually include the cost of hauling debris to the local dump. Presumably this practice is not  unique to Lunenberg, but contractors sometimes (frequently?) pocket the disposal fee and just dump the debris in the woods.

Lunenburg is by no means unique in the matter of illegal contractor dumping. Souris - a pretty little town of 2000 souls about 200 km west of Winnipeg -  has its own experience. Inexplicably, the perpetrator included all kinds of evidence pointing back to him.

Manitoba has the unfortunate distinction of offering no more protection against crooked contractors than Nova Scotia does.  Rana Abdulla and her husband contracted with Sean Carlson and his company, Blue Nile Capital Inc. to renovate a small restaurant in Winnipeg. They gave him almost $90,000 as advance payment - their life savings. Carlson did some demolition work but did not show up to do any reno work. Carlson is now facing a $90,000 law suit and it's not his first time. In previous encounters, he didn't even bother showing up for some of the court hearings and had default judgments issued against him. Like in Halifax, local police said it's a civil matter and refused to get involved.

Peter Kroone - a contractor in Oshawa ON - is facing fraud charges after taking money from homeowners for work which he did not finish or even start. He also used a cheque stolen from one of his clients. The incomplete or unstarted work and financial transgression is very similar to what Yvan Haince did, except Haince used a stolen credit card. The other difference is that in Ontario, crooked contractors get charged and sometimes go to jail. Almost exclusively, Nova Scotia has no deterrents and no consequences for crooked contractors.

If you really want to skate on thin ice, follow in the steps of Dole Contracting Ltd of Woodbridge ON. They found out that unauthorized use of a professional engineer's stamp during a demolition project brings down the wrath of the Professional Engineers of Ontario and a $5000 fine. Actually, passing yourself off as a P.Eng when you're not will get you a serious smack-down anywhere in Canada.

Showing once again that Ontario has a tight rein on contractors, Kamal Malekzai of Mississauga was personally fined $2,000 (and his company another $2000) and ordered to pay the consumer $15,597.96 in restitution for failing to perform kitchen renovations. Malekzai was also placed on probation for two years. 

David John of Burlington ON got a $40,000 fine and 5 days in jail for doing electrical work without a license. In Nova Scotia - as Yvan Haince has demonstrated - such licensing requirements either do not exist or are ignored.

Yvon Richer of Ottawa was fined $12,500 for just advertising for electrical work on Kijiji  without a license. Richer was fined $2000 in 2014 for doing electrical work without a license, and for not having taken out the necessary permits. Ontario keeps their contractors on a short leash. In Nova Scotia, there is no leash.

Richard William Nestor Belbas of Thunder Bay ON - same old story. Took advance payments and did not finish the job. Much of the work which he did perform had to be replaced. He pleaded guilty to six counts of fraud. In Nova Scotia, taking deposits and not finishing the job does not carry any consequence.

Alberta - unlike Nova Scotia - has legislation which protects homeowners against crooked contractors. Protection is offered through the "Fair Trading Act" , and the practice of demanding payment in advance or for work which has not been done landed Calgary contractor Kieron Warren in jail for 6 months and slapped with a $300,000 fine. He had defrauded 6 families out of at least $300,000. He declared personal bankruptcy before setting up a numbered company through which he carries on business. Nova Scotia has its Consumer Protection Act, which is silent on contractors. In fact, Nova Scotia puts more emphasis on regulating firewood vendors than contractors. Yvan Haince would not do well in Alberta.

Partly because of the lack of control over contractors in Nova Scotia, a contractor insolvency can be the beginning of a nightmare for homeowners. Filing fraudulent liens has become so common it's being called "Paper Terrorism" and the whole issue of bogus liens in Nova Scotia makes life for crooked contractors pretty simple. For homeowners, not so much.

Bruce Hopkins of Calgary - owner of the TV show The Remodelers - took about $5 million in advance payments from 22 families before declaring bankruptcy. Hopkins already had a previous fraud conviction, and eventually pleaded guilty to 22 charges. He is awaiting sentencing in September, 2017.

Calgary General Contractors is another Calgary contractor which collected deposits from several homeowners before closing its doors. CGC also left several sub-contractors unpaid, which resulted in liens filed against some homeowners. In Alberta, a lien has to be "enforced" to become enforceable - just like in Nova Scotia - but unlike in NS, if the lien is not enforced, it disappears. In NS, it stays on the house title forever, maybe impotently, but it's there. There is no requirement for anyone to notify the homeowner. Also, filing a fraudulent lien in Nova Scotia is ridiculously easy.

Mathieu Tardif of Montreal ripped off a 69-year-old woman for $90,000. The woman was left with an unfinished shambles of a flood-damaged house and no resources with which to correct the damage. One morning, she opened her door to see 50 volunteers - police officers, neighbours and real contractors - getting ready to fix her house - for free. Tardif was arrested and faces several charges of fraud.

Gavin Dand of Ancaster ON pulled a classic contractor stunt - ask for an advance, do a little work, ask for some more money and stop work when he doesn't get paid. He was charged with fraud, but the charges were eventually stayed. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada lodged an Access to Information request # A-2016-00037 to find out why the charges were stayed.

Laurie Gallup of Edmonton had a deck built by Four Seasons Landscaping, Irrigation and Construction. Four Seasons put the stairs within a few inches of the fireplace vent which resulted in the stairs being charred. Four Seasons said they'd fix it only if Gallup took down unflattering online reviews and Global Edmonton would refrain from airing the story.

Matthew Morris of Baton Rouge, Louisiana  was charged with several counts of contractor fraud and was held in jail pending bail payment of $635,000. Morris filed bogus liens against various properties and used those liens as collateral for a $250,000 line of credit.  When Morris hit the end of the line, it was ugly.  We don't usually mention transgressions from the US but in some cases it shows the range in how the contractor business is administered. In our opinion, Yvan Haince's tenure in Louisiana as a contractor - should he choose to relocate - would be brief.

Over in Tampa, Florida when they say contractors have to be licensed, they really mean it. After complaints from real contractors who play by the book, sheriff's deputies started banging on doors at 5 am, with warrants for 20 contractors. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri decided the Construction Licensing Board was not up to the job of keeping contractors under control and assumed that responsibility. Gaultieri referred to the rogue contractors as "thieves and scammers".

Back in Nova Scotia, condominiums seem to suffer disproportionately at the hands of incompetent contractors. 17% of condominiums "suffered from a near-total building envelope failure."

Troy Mailman - another Nova Scotia contractor who put a family through the meat grinder - was taken to Small Claims Court over a botched heat pump installation, where he was ordered to pay his victim $17,000. Mailman's company - E.E.O.R.E. Construction Limited - was struck off the Nova Scotia Joint Registry of Stocks for non-payment on May 6, 2015 (for the second time).

Mike Upton in Bible Hill, NS has collected $57,000 in deposits from 15 people to build sheds for them. The work has not been done, but Upton says he is no longer collecting deposits. Unlike in Alberta, you don't need any kind of license or permit to accept advance payments for contracting work in NS. Unlike most contractor complaints in Nova Scotia, this one got the RCMP interested. Mike Upton has a colourful past, including a 7-year sentence handed down in 2005 for robbery.

Most contractors don't like media exposure, but Maurizio Ercolani of Bolton, Ontario made that really clear when he attacked a Global TV crew. Ercolani was on the receiving end of a seemingly popular complaint - taking deposits and not doing the work. He was subsequently arrested and charged with fraud. In Nova Scotia, police do not seem interested in contractors who defraud people - calling it "a civil matter." If you defraud a homeowner of $10,000 in Nova Scotia, you're pretty much guaranteed a walk. Try lifting $10,000 from the Royal Bank and see how far you walk.

Dale Fotsch is a homeowner, not a contractor. We bring up her story because she exemplifies another dark side of being a homeowner who gets involved in the legal system. If you get into a scrap with a crooked contractor - especially over a fraudulent lien - you can easily drown in legal bills. Ms. Fotsch was eventually rescued by a good samaritan. A legal brawl with a contractor can be very one-sided - the homeowner usually winds up doing most of the heavy lifting in paying the legal bills.

Sarah Griffin and Jason Formanger are homeowners in Nova Scotia who ran afoul of the notorious Builders Lien Act. This is a legalized form of extortion which allows contractors to file liens against your property without telling you. Specifically, para. 24(A) says you have to notify the homeowner if you file a lien against his property. Then, 24(B) says it doesn't really matter if you don't tell him. The key element to surviving one of these encounters is to hold back 10% of all payments made to a contractor, and not to release the balance until 60 days after the last day of work by anyone - contractor or subcontractor. Without the 10% holdback, your financial exposure is essentially unlimited. Contractors can - and do - file fraudulent liens, and perjure themselves in the process. No one has ever been charged in NS (that we know of) for doing that, and homeowners can wind up with $20,000 in legal bills to get a bogus lien cleared from their property title.

Allen Boisjoli of Vegreville, AB is the first person in Canada known to be charged with Paper Terrorism - filing a fraudulent lien as a form of intimidation. The notary public - Edward J. Powell - who processed the lien has been fired from his job. Powell could have been charged with contempt of court. In the Land Registration Office of Nova Scotia, no such restrictions or consequences are applied. In the US, Paper Terrorism - especially against public officials - has reached epidemic proportions. Some states are fighting back - hard. We can only hope that Nova Scotia wakes up to this phenomenon - we don't seem to have  "sovereign citizen" or "freemen" issues to contend with (yet) but contractors with their fraudulent liens can be just as bad.
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