A Winnipeg couple was left without a kitchen after paying out almost $10,000 to a contractor they considered a friend.

In 2010, Kris Scoran and his wife, Ashley, hired their friend, contractor Matthew Clarke, to renovate their Transcona kitchen based on past work he had done for friends and family.

'I put my trust in someone I thought I knew very well.'—Kris Scoran

The Scorans provided Clarke with detailed drawings and the product numbers of what they wanted installed.

They got a quote from Home Depot for just over $13,000 and they said Clarke agreed to do the job for $10,000.

"It’s cheaper. I guess it’s not always best to go cheaper," Scoran said.

The Scorans did not sign a written contract, a decision they say later caused a lot of difficulties.

Unpleasant surprise to discover work not done

"I put my trust in someone that I thought I knew very well," Scoran said.

"Matt's a good guy, he'll take care of it. If he doesn’t do a job properly he’ll come back and fix it. And he didn’t live up to any of those expectations."

Clarke started the job in spring 2010 while the couple went away on a month-long vacation.

"We thought that was a great idea because we'd be gone for three to four weeks and the kitchen would be finished," Scoran said. "We wouldn't have to live without a kitchen."

'We were washing our dishes in the bathtub for months.'—Kris and Ashley Scoran

Scoran said they agreed to pay in stages with two cheques dated two weeks apart, because they were going to be away when Clarke finished.

"When we came back, the kitchen was supposed to be finished.  It was maybe a quarter done." Scoran said.

"It was partly shock that it wasn't done, the other part of it was we found out he cashed both cheques."

Worse than that, they say the cabinets they wanted were stained two different colours.

The couple asked Clarke to start over with new cabinets but agreed to help him sell the ones they rejected to recoup some of the money.

The Scorans said that Clarke was to come back and finish the kitchen but that didn’t happen.

"We were washing our dishes in the bathtub for months," said Scoran.

Scoran said he tried to get Clarke to come finish the job but eventually filed a suit in small claims court. He said that’s where the system failed him.

Legal battle brings more frustration

"We had to pay $50 every time there was more paperwork or an extension on the court case," Scoran said. "And finding him to serve him the papers was impossible."

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The couple had to pay more money in order to serve Clarke, whom they said did not have a fixed address at the time.

"We had to pay a private investigator $500 to find him for us and when we did, he didn’t bother showing up to court anyway," said Scoran.

A judge awarded the Scorans almost $8,000 plus court costs, but court officials told them they couldn’t collect on the judgment because they didn’t know where Clarke lived, worked or banked.

"The rules they told us didn’t add up, and when I asked the judge in the court what I can do to find out where he banks, he said you hire a PI again. I don’t have another $1,000 to have someone follow him around," said Scoran.

CBC News reached Clarke by telephone and he said wasn’t aware of the court proceedings and that he was not served paperwork at the time of the lawsuit.

However, sworn court documents show that Clarke was formally served.

Clarke said that he did a lot of work that he was not paid for and that he is also out a lot of money because of the Scorans. However, he did not provide CBC news with evidence to support these claims.

Clarke said that after CBC contacted him, he is now willing to go through a mediation process with the Scorans to try and settle the situation.

Consumer Protection Office receives many calls about contractors

Gail Anderson, director of Manitoba’s Consumer Protection Office, said her office receives many complaints about contractors.

"We've heard a lot of these stories. Some have contracts. Some don't. It’s the season of contractors and home renovations," Anderson said.

While she wouldn’t comment on the Scoran’s case, she has tips for consumers considering hiring a contractor, including the importance of having a written contract.

'We've heard a lot of these stories.'—Gail Anderson, Consumer Protection Office

"Make sure that any contract that you are going to get into, have it in writing," she said.

"This is where you can outline the terms for payment. It’s good to have a pay-as-you-go, progress(ive) payments.

"We always encourage consumers to shop around. Don’t rush. And make sure you get references from the contractor," Anderson added.

She told CBC news that with the written contract, the Consumer Protection Office can enforce judgments, arrange mediation and prosecute businesses that don’t finish their work.

In the last two and a half years, 13 Manitoba contractors have been investigated by her office, and in a recent case prosecuted by the CPO, the business was fined and forced to pay full restitution to the homeowner. 

"It is serious and we certainly do have powers of enforcement," Anderson said.

But, she points out that it only works when there is a signed contract.

That’s advice that Kris Scoran said came too late for him and he had to shell out more money to finish the kitchen on his own.

"Someone like this takes your faith away," he said.

"It changed me as a person and it didn’t just take my money. It took something else from me."