Canadian Contractor

Steve Payne   

Toronto contractor who stiffed his trades, customers is subject of public protest

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Adam Gardin, owner of GarCon Building Group, told the Toronto Star that he is "extremely remorseful" about his firm's pending bankruptcy. A subtrade and an employee interviewed by Canadian Contractor were not buying any of it.

TORONTO – January 7, 2015

How does a general contractor with ten years experience go from being a top-ranked HomeStars firm (a “Best Of” award winner in 2010 and 2011) to being publicly-labelled a “thief” in a front page story in the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest-circulation daily newspaper?

The contractor in question, Adam Gardin, of GarCon Building Group, Toronto, became a major news story on Jan. 5.

Gardin was the subject of a public protest in front of his residence for failing to pay his sub trades and employees while reportedly abandoning some 20 of his current renovation and homebuilding projects. Gardin says he’s broke, has been locked out of his office space by his landlord because of rent arrears and he says he is filing for bankruptcy.

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Some 15 subtrades and four employees attended the protest, in addition to a dozen angry homeowner customers. They waved placards with slogans such as, “Adam Gardin Stole Our Holidays,” “Don’t Trust Adam Gardin,” and “My Home Has No Roof.” The picketing was covered by at least four major TV stations.

The Toronto Star story that first publicized Gardin’s story (see end of this story for link) interviewed GarCon customer Karim Hajee, who had hired the firm to turn his two-bedroom bungalow at Bathurst and Lawrence in midtown Toronto into a five-bedroom house. After workers gutted the home in October, and dug a hole for the addition in November, the Star‘s story says, work stopped.

CityTV News reported that another homeowner, Greg Harris, said he had given Gardin a “30 per cent” deposit for a major renovation, totalling $60,000, which he thought was a lot – but trusted Gardin. Harris said he had received approximately $10,000 in services before GarCon’s subtrades told Harris that they could not continue to work because they had not been paid.

The protest was organized by Rodrigo Menezes, a GarCon foreman. Menezes told Canadian Contractor that he had been working for Gardin for about 18 months. He said Gardin owed him some $6,000 in back wages and expenses. (Gardin told the Star that the amount was only $3,000.)

Menezes said that he had worked side-by-side with Gardin, often as the only two workers on a job, and that he had initially trusted him – but thought he was overly ambitious and over-extended. “I thought that he (had) just got in over his head. He had to have this big office that he rented, his kids (were) in private school. But after he wouldn’t pay me, and after talking to the other trades, customers, it just seems like he tried to scam me. I think he’s a big liar, a scammer.”

Menezes said that GarCon has about 20 unfinished projects on the go in Toronto, some of them barely begun, some of them almost complete.

Canadian Contractor also spoke to another of the subtrade protesters, Hanna Taylor, owner of Hotwire Electric, who has worked with GarCon for several years. She came to the protest at Gardin’s house displaying a board covered with dozens of what she said were bounced cheques that she had received from Gardin. Taylor is taking Gardin to small claims court for the maximum $25,000. She says Gardin actually owes her $35,000.

“He wrote to the court and offered to pay me $500 a month, interest free,” Taylor said. She says the court threw out the offer. After talking to the other subtrades, Taylor estimates Gardin owes, in total, over $1-million.

Asked why she would continue to work for a contractor who had already issued numerous bounced cheque, Taylor says that Gardin threatened to charge her penalty fees of more than she was owed if she walked off his current jobsites. She said Gardin also threatened her with legal action in return if she stopped providing services. She said she felt that continuing to work for GarCon was her only hope of seeing payment.

Taylor told Canadian Contractor that she suspects Gardin has been taking to Detroit what money he has recently brought in from his Toronto customers, rather than paying his Toronto trades. Gardin is a Michigan native and Taylor says he has numerous ongoing renovation jobsites in Detroit.

Gardin, for his part, told the journalist who broke the story at the Star, in an email on Sunday, that he was “extremely remorseful.” He has also emailed his clients. He has not spoken publicly, however. He has not returned phone calls from Canadian Contractor.

“I am guilty of being a bad businessman, overly arrogant, and not effectively communicating my situation with those around me and my clients. However, I am not a thief. I have not defrauded anyone of the money they invested in me and my company,” he wrote in his email to the Star. “I truly wish that I had not caused so many people to suffer. While I realize my words do not help solve anything, I hope that you will at least understand that I did not intentionally create this mess.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s market-leading contractor review site, HomeStars, has had its share of adverse publicity since the story of Gardin’s firm’s actions came to light. Not only was GarCon a “Best Of” winner in 2010 and 2011, but until negative reviews started to appear over the last month or so, GarCon was very close to a 10 out of 10 rated firm.

“GarCon clients upset with contractor’s reviews on HomeStars” was the headline of one CBC story online. Nancy Peterson, HomeStars founder and CEO, told the CBC that it is possible that some false reviews appeared on her site and she said the site will make changes.

See the original Toronto Star story here: “Stranded homeowners, employees hold protest at house of failed homebuilder.”

 

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