The underground economy: Was this the worst contractor in Toronto?
The contractor mis-represented herself as an employee of a Toronto home improvement store, went out to the customer's home and asked for a personal cheque "to save HST," and then sent in a tradesperson who removed a vital handrail before liening the house.
February 19, 2014 by Alec Caldwell
Recently, a homeowner spoke to me about how he got taken advantage of by a Toronto contractor. I feel I have to talk about this because, while we all realize that this particular contractor is in the minority, it’s people like these who give our industry a black eye.
The homeowner told me that went into a Toronto store to purchase a new handrail system for his home. The first store assistant’s English was not so good, apparently, so a second (apparent) employee stepped in to help. This (apparent) employee came out to the customer’s home, representing the store, to do an estimate. She took a deposit in three cheques, the initial one for $1,300 dated for that day. She asked the customer to write the cheques to her personally. The idea was to, allegedly, save the homeowner HST (!).
The “employee” then made out a handwritten receipt for the money she received, entering the retail store’s name as the company doing the job.
Subsequently, a tradesman arrived (with partial material), removed the homeowner’s existing wood top rail – and took it away. (As a side note, the removal of this handrail left the homeowner with a fall hazard, as only every third or fourth spindle was left standing. This would not stop someone from falling if they lost their balance – which could have resulted in someone falling head first onto the floor below.)
The first cheque was, in the meantime, certified and cashed. The other two cheques of $1,000 were post-dated and luckily un-cashable at this time.
This was the last time the homeowner saw anyone related to this project at his home – in spite of numerous calls and emails. Worst still, the tradesperson who removed the original hand rail called and said – as he had received no payment for this – that he planned to put a lien on this couples home.
So let’s sum this up so far for the homeowner: $1,300 out of pocket, their wooden handrail nowmissing- and the threat of a lien on their home.
Finally, the homeowner went back to the store. It got worse! A person there said the “employee” who came out to quote was not, in fact, an employee at all. She was a contractor who happened to be in the store at the time and had not revealed this to the homeowner (!). Utterly amazed, the homeowner went to the police but – even worse – they could not help as the legal issue was between the store and the woman who fraudulently represented herself as a store employee. (The advice from the police was, I was told, “buy locally” next time.)
The homeowner was forced to hire another more reputable contractor, who did not even ask for a deposit. The job of course was well above the original contractor’s price, but the customer learned his lesson. Chances are the new contractor priced the job correctly, factoring in everything from WSIB clearances for his subs or employees, to liability insurance, to his license, GST/HST, etc.
Finally, the homeowner thought he could get some token revenge on the original, unscrupulous contractor. So he posted a complaint on HomeStars. Surprisingly, the most recent review, before he got there, ranked the contractor as a 9 out of 10 for her work, but all of the preceding comments were right on the money. Here’s a selection:
The Good Review
“My experience was very very different then the above mentioned… she would not leave until it was perfect and, as a perfectionist myself, I was A-okay with this. Overall. I am beyond satisfied with the work and will refer ******** to others.”
The Bad & Ugly Reviews
“DO NOT HIRE THIS COMPANY” and I used the term company lightly, * * * * * is nothing but a con-artist and thug… The man that was working on our stairs quit mid-way and said * * * * * is not the person we think she is… * * * * * is a fraud I hope she will be out of business soon, so that she will not be able to take advantage of innocent people anymore.”
Tthe job was suppose to start and * * * * * told us that she needed more money before she could start the job. We have already paid her $,2500 in cash which was more than 50% of the whole job… THAT SAYS IT ALL! DO NOT HIRE THIS COMPANY.”
“They’ve refused to refund our money and refused to supply us with the hardwood. * * * * * has even told us that we owe them for the work that was done. They’ve since left their location on St. Clair so if you find them elsewhere DO NOT hire them!!”
“She disappeared for days – up to a week – without even the courtesy of returning a phone call.”
“They kept promising and in the end after receiving 90% of the funds, abandoned the job.”
“We have been waiting for the completion of a very small job.”
Obviously, this is the type of information that would preclude anyone doing business with this contractor. But even if you have a reputable firm, you need to know if there are negative reviews about you, online. Read have you been Googled lately.
CARAHS was founded as a non-profit association to help educate, inform and mentor self-employed renovators, builders, and home services professionals.
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Alec CaldwellAlec Caldwell is the Founder of CARAHS, a Health & Safety Organization. We are approved providers by the Ministry of Labour (Ontario) to teach Working at Heights Training (Pro#34609) Visit the Ministry of Labour's web site to view our listing
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