Three customers of Mini Homes of Manitoba say the company did not deliver the homes they ordered, and the chief of tornado-ravaged Long Plain has removed the company from being in charge of building new homes on the Manitoba First Nation.
The company, started in 2015 by Manitoba couple Darrell Manuliak and Anita Munn, once touted its compact, energy-efficient, mobile houses as a potential solution for the housing crisis on First Nations and said housing shouldn't be a privilege.
Terry Anniuk couldn't afford the cost of a home on Manitoba's Hecla Island so he opted to buy one of the tiny houses instead. It seemed like a smart idea for Anniuk, who makes his living working on the island's resort, but months later he still doesn't have his home and said he's out his life savings.
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"I'm devastated. This has been the most stressful situation I've ever been in," said Anniuk, 40. He was looking forward to moving into his one-bedroom loft-style mini-home.
At just over $62,000, it was a fraction of the cost of homes in the $300,000-$400,000 range on the market on the scenic island in Manitoba's Interlake.
His workplace gave him permission to put the mini-home on its property and Anniuk felt good about being able to later move the small building one day if he went on to work somewhere else.
Anniuk said he gathered up $23,000 in savings and got a loan from the bank for $40,000 before paying the full amount for the home in April 2017.
His credit union even paid Mini Homes of Manitoba a visit to make sure everything was in order and then gave the loan the all-clear, he said.
"They were super excited to give out their very first tiny-house loan to someone."
Excited for the move in, Anniuk bought a sectional for his new home and made plans for it to be delivered to the lot where the mini-home was supposed to be sitting on in Garson, Man., but the delivery wasn't successful.
"The delivery people called me and they said, 'Hey either we got the wrong address or, like, there's no house here. There's no building.'"
Anniuk's first written contract had no delivery date for the home, but verbally and via text messages, he said there was an agreement the home was supposed to be ready in May. Mini Homes confirmed the May delivery date.
He said Mini Homes later told him through text messages the house wouldn't be ready until early July but even then, it didn't come.
"It's like telling someone it's going to be Christmas morning every day."
Anniuk said he stopped asking where his house was and instead asked for a refund in the summer, before he relented and agreed to take the house if it arrived in September.
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He later discovered his home was seized by provincial sheriffs who took it from the Long Plain First Nation after a lumber company successfully went after Mini Homes in small claims court for an unpaid account of $8,300. The home is set to be auctioned off on Dec. 9.
And Anniuk isn't the only customer who feels left in the lurch.
Sheila Pogson has been struggling to pay rent over the last few years and turned to Mini Homes for an affordable solution.
Pogson did her research on the company and found positive news stories about the owners, so she made her purchase. "There [had] been a few stories in the paper about them and I went and talked to them and they seemed really genuine."
Using inheritance money in the spring of 2016, she said she bought a home for $31,000 from the company. The home was never delivered and a lengthy battle with the company followed.
"This has just completely wiped me out," said Pogson, who is now living on the Canada Pension Plan's disability plan to get by. Pogson said the home would have given her independence.
"It would have given me security," she said.
She asked for a refund and said she was able to get $10,000 back from the company. She went to small claims court for another $10,000.
The court ruled in her favour but she said she hasn't yet been paid. Mini Homes told CBC they disputed her claim and they said they don't owe her any money.
Lawsuit filed by Colorado couple
Court records show the company is being sued for $58,790 plus interest for failing to deliver a mini-home to American customers in Colorado.
The Colorado buyers of the home wanted a refund after their home wasn't delivered in November 2016, when the buyers expected it, according to court documents.
The house didn't meet safety standards to be moved on a highway and the company wanted to change the type of windows on the home and switch its heating system, the couple alleges in a statement of claim, which has not yet been resolved.
Mini Homes owner Munn said she still plans to build the Colorado customer a home but needs the go ahead to make changes. "We're still willing to build his home. He just needs to sign off on the agreement that it needs to be modified slightly."
'I want to make it right'
Munn said she feels awful for Anniuk and blames a third-party contractor, who she wouldn't name, for doing a poor job on his mini-home.
"I'm sick to my stomach that things turned out the way that they did," she said. "Our intent was never to have things go south at all."
She admitted her company doesn't have the money to give Anniuk a refund but said she still has every intention of delivering his house. She can't do that, though, because she's waiting to be paid for a project, she said.
"I want to make it right for him.… Every single penny we have is involved in this project," Munn said referring to a partnership with Long Plain First Nation.
The community partnered with the company to build 12 homes after a tornado destroyed several homes there last summer.
Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches said of the 12 homes ordered, six should be ready for families to move into by Christmas. Meeches said the First Nation took over the project about six weeks ago.
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The chief said the First Nation discovered a mini-home was being built in the community's recreation complex for the company and not the reserve, and the company didn't get permission to do the private build on the First Nation.
"We were concerned about that," he said.
Munn said the home was originally for her and her husband but they decided to give it to Anniuk. She maintains building one personal home was part of the deal with Long Plain.
The chief said the community has since taken over the home building project and in hindsight, he wishes his First Nation hadn't partnered with the company. He said Mini Homes continues to supervise the building of homes but has no other role in the project.
Munn said she and her husband plan to make everything right and admits they aren't perfect.
"I know the value of a home. I live in a camper. I don't have a home. I live in a fifth wheel outside."
Munn told CBC Tuesday night she has come up with the cash needed to bid on Anniuk's home at the auction, but he said he doesn't want the house anymore and just wants a refund.
Mini Homes of Manitoba's company Facebook page, where Anniuk said he posted his story, has since been taken down.
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