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

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.


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January 7, 2015 by Steve Payne

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.

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.”

 


Steve Payne

Steve Payne

Steve Payne is the editor of Canadian Contractor magazine
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7 Comments » for Toronto contractor who stiffed his trades, customers is subject of public protest
  1. Sean Keane says:

    Steve,
    Pretty ironic one of your last columns of the year was the article about placing the first lien now we start the year with a blow out story about homeowners and trades being stiffed. Without paying any disrespect to the homeowners that are facing this turmoil, I wonder if it was not for the strife of these homeowners would the mainstream media ie the Star even have put so much weight behind the story. Either way they did, a start you could say.
    I reviewed this guys website and I noticed he was part of a few associations but more importantly the Tarion badge is clearly displayed. Are any of these homeowners protected by Tarion and to what extent if they are. Something these homeowners could definitely benefit from.
    Secondly as mentioned in the lien posting we as trades and suppliers have and continue to face this dilemma on a daily basis. As you mentioned you bid to job, if your low bid you get it. Then the worry starts, will you get paid. As noted by the electrician in this story once your in deep enough your next fear is if you try and force payment you are risk of losing it all. A sad reality. There is never any issue when you are doing the work however when you fight to get paid backcharges, deficiencies and threats soon surface.
    The cost to go the legal route is also in cumbersome, you need to weigh the probabilities, as stated above its sad that if your owed $ 30 k you must accept to sue for $ 25k which is the maximum amount for the cheapest route in small claims court, the other route is time consuming and costly, the case can be tied up for years, trust me been there done that. I have, besides my WSIB case in front of the courts,( now entering its 5th year) 2 other cases, (the cause directly relating to my WSIB issue) in front of the courts now going on 3 years.
    This is the reality in our industry, I was glad to see these particular trades standing arm and arm with these homeowners, We can only hope that more and more come forward with their horror stories and finally make our government pay attention. We don’t need any more nanny state laws like the never ending attack on smokers introducing entities like the College of Trade, or continuing to protect a failed institution like the WSIB. We need our elected officials to enact some legislation that will protect its people from this form of financial tyranny.
    Maybe through your magazine you can bring attention to the mainstream media like the Sun, the Star and the Globe to bring attention to what really matters.

    Sean

    • Mark Mitchell says:

      Well said Sean,but I don’t think any gov’t official will ever be able to enact and actually enforce any laws that will ensure that everyone in the construction industry is always honest and never greedy. As long as there is a free market, there will be thieves looking to cash in. Solutions? There has to be one other than our normal response of taking a framing hammer to the side of the non-payers head. (home owner or general contractor). How about some kind of escrow service like PayPal, where the money is held until both parties are satisfied?
      I have been burned a few times a whole bunch of different ways, and would support this kind of non-government solution

  2. pete de jonge says:

    I agree with Sean but ther is also the justis system .if you put a lien on a job and i.t ends up in court the first thing a judes will do is take off the lien now it becomes very costly.as for Tarion its a joke they only collect funds from builders but will do nothing to help builders, been down that road

    • Edward says:

      I agree, Tarion is a joke. It is also a joke to use it. They protect the homeowner from nothing majority of the time.

  3. Edward says:

    Saw this story today, feel very bad for these homeowners BUT at same time…….. Why point the finger at a website? Homestars, like any other site has FLAWS which you should all know. Yes, they tried to fix them for the most part but it is still flawed. I myself was working for one of the top plumbing companies during Homestars early days. I can assure you that during those early years, hundreds of fake reviews were made by its office employee’s and spouses (former and existing) Which in turn assured themselves top spot and I am sure many have done the same during that time. Every review of company you see on homestars, should come with a grain of salt. Word of mouth referrals through friends and family & NEIGHBOURS work best, as everyone has needed a trade one way or another. I have never used Homestars for my own company and I am busy with a steady income. The idea of a company PAYING for its existance on the site speaks volumes, especially when you have to compete with the early adopter cheaters with thousands of reviews, who cheated for a good portion of those reviews. Every bad review of a company is scrutinzed BY the company & Gets wiped off majority of the time with a “pending” or “guidelines” marker. Although, I have seen one crybaby company, get some wiped off completely.

  4. Website like Homestars have provided Us with a great tool on checking references.
    We now have control over which reference we like to check by telling the company to give us radom selected reviews to verify and non compliance to this request is a red flag. The old system where the contractor give the client the names is more open to cheating.

    • Edward says:

      No doubt homestars helps. The issue I have pointed out is the old system, as it had allowed many “Top” plumbers, electricians, etc to put themselves above all with hundreds of phoney reviews. The company in question here, had been in business for a while. They also had “good” reviews, which NOW homestars says… May have been faked. In the end, homestars integrity just went down the drain.