Disappearing deposits? Alberta families warn of allegedly unscrupulous contractors
CALGARY -- A group of homeowners is warning anyone looking to renovate to watch out for fraudulent contractors capitalizing on the pandemic.
Several people who say they are victims of the same contractor are sharing their stories in the hope others might avoid their mistakes. One of them is a lawyer who agreed to donate her legal time to fight for the group.
"We’re all spending a lot more time at home during the pandemic and many of us need renovations to accommodate that," said Cyndy Morin of Resolve Legal Group.
"That’s making contractors harder to find and what we may not realize is there are unscrupulous operators waiting to take advantage of our vulnerability."
Morin felt fortunate to find a contractor, through word of mouth in the midst of the pandemic, with glowing reviews.
The two met and, according to Morin, the worker requested a $2,737 deposit with another $2,737 due at the start of the project.
Morin paid the deposit but became suspicious when the contractor kept putting her off. She searched the name online and found several other people with similar stories.
Catherine Freeman said she hired the contractor to tile her yard in June 2019 but began to worry when the start date kept getting pushed back.
“And then I just had this horrible, sick feeling in my stomach that he’s not going to show up," she said.
She said he never showed up and work still hadn’t even been started 14 months after Freeman said the two signed the contract and she put down a $4,000 deposit.
Resolve Legal Group says 10 people in Calgary and Cochrane have come forward regarding the same contractor.
Each says they are out thousands of dollars for work either not started, or partially finished.
“This whole project is costing us tens of thousands or dollars were it should have cost us $6,000 total,” said Randa Salem, who said her family had to fork out more money to complete yard projects she said the contractor did not finish or did not meet code.
Families say they checked reviews, references, and in some cases got his city license and insurance certificates so felt they had done their homework.
There is an important step they were not aware of that they want others to know about.
“Not to give a deposit unless the contractor is licensed to accept a deposit,” said Salem.
Alberta law prohibits contractors from taking deposits unless they are licensed and bonded, Morin warns.
"Don’t be afraid of looking silly by demanding that your contractor be bonded and asking to see his or her license. Yes, they must be licensed to get a deposit."
Service Alberta has a website to check who is qualified as a prepaid contractor.
“You put in the contractor’s name and it tells you whether or not they have a licence,” explained Freeman.
“I would have gone with someone that either didn’t request a deposit or requested a deposit and was licensed.”
If a contractor requests a deposit without a license, you can report them to the Service Alberta Consumer Investigations Unit which may help protect others.
Salem said another tip is getting a city permit for projects can offer protection as well.
“I didn’t know this but if you get a permit then you know that the work is being done to code and the contractor is held responsible.”
The group of homeowners met with both the Calgary Police Service and Cochrane RCMP. No charges have been laid.