Janice Braden’s home renovation project started as a $20,000 insurance claim for damage caused by ice damming, but she says it turned into an almost year-long ordeal that left her home in shambles.
In January, the single mother from Saskatoon hired contractor Brian Cooney to fix water damage in her kitchen, dining room, bathroom and attic.
“By the time he stepped away, the money was all gone for this project,” Braden said.
“And what I was left with was a big mess.”
And now she’s left without recourse, except to pursue the contractor in court. In Saskatchewan, the rule is ‘buyer beware.’ Consumers are expected to do their own due diligence.
Contractor came with a recommendation
Braden said initially she was very impressed with Cooney, who was recommended by an electrician she knew.
She said he seemed likeable and knowledgeable, so she hired him to do the insurance claim, but didn’t write up a contract.
Braden had already done some of the work herself, so she asked Cooney if he would do some extra work in exchange for the entire insurance pay out of just over $20,000.
She said he agreed and explained to her that this would help him, as a new business owner, to create some show home quality work and some “good pictures for his website.”
Contractor gets to work, problems emerge: homeowner
Braden said she and her daughter moved out from February to April at the insurance company’s expense.
She was pleased to see that Cooney did the demolition work very quickly, but within a few weeks she became worried.
“I started noticing a lot of appointments just always seemed to be bumped back and there always seemed to be an excuse,” Braden recalled. “It was always somebody else's fault.”
At the beginning of May, Braden moved back in “and the kitchen still wasn’t done. And all this other work still wasn’t done. And so it started to become desperate.”
Among Braden’s concerns:
- A pot light had been installed inside a kitchen cabinet. There were sizeable gaps between the cabinet and the wall. The new countertop was covered in paint overspray and didn’t sit properly on the cabinets.
- Braden’s stove didn’t fit in the new kitchen cabinets, and still sits in the middle of her kitchen. And the 30” hood fan she had purchased didn’t fit in the 28.5” space left for it.
- The new tile wasn’t laid properly and is now lifting.
- Electrical work was done but no permit was obtained.
Braden said since she’s moved back into the home, Cooney hasn’t done any work, despite her continual pleading.
“I tried sitting down and having a reasonable discussion and that didn’t work. I tried doing ultimatums. That didn’t work.”
‘This is an absolute insult’
Eventually Braden said she realized the work wasn’t going to get done so she ended the relationship with Cooney and brought in Dave Anderchek, an award-winning contractor based in Saskatoon.
Anderchek has been in the construction industry for 35 years and said this is some of the poorest workmanship he’s seen.
“This is an absolute insult to see the workmanship and somebody actually got paid and took somebody’s money and left them high and dry.”
When CBC’s iTeam reached Cooney by phone, he was initially reluctant to talk.
The contractor explained that it was Braden who had in fact scammed him, and he was going to sue her for $70,000 worth of unpaid work.
“I can’t give you any information on that. It’s going to court,” Cooney explained. “Sorry.”
But he went on to acknowledge that he received $20,000 for the insurance claim and he insisted that work was “100 per cent done.”
Yet, the iTeam’s review of Braden’s home and the insurance company bid sheet, shows much of the work is incomplete. For example, the bathroom and attic are still unfinished rooms, stripped to the bare floor and studs.
Cooney claimed an electrical permit had, in fact, been obtained, but he was unable to produce it or identify the electrician who had done the work.
And Cooney was quick to defend the quality of his cabinet work and insisted that Braden’s stove does in fact “fit in there perfectly.”
He acknowledged that there is a pot light inside a cabinet, but he explained that’s not his fault. He said Braden kept changing her mind.
“There was gonna be no cabinet there. Then there was going to be a cabinet,” Cooney explained. “There was going to be different things.”
Cooney said ultimately he’s the victim here.
“I’ve been taken,” Cooney said.
“I’m a little disappointed with her, but people will do whatever they can to get ahead.”
A call for renovation regulation
Anderchek says he sees too many contractors who, in his view, don’t know what they’re doing, and aren’t treating
He said for years he’s been encouraging the government to regulate the renovation industry because Saskatchewan’s current approach of “buyer beware” isn’t good enough.
He said the booming economy has led to a growing number of unqualified contractors.
“The whole industry, the renovation industry, needs an overhaul with government guidelines things like that so that things like this don’t happen,” Anderchek said. “Clients need protection. Contractors need protection.”
And that’s exactly what the Manitoba government says it will be giving people in that province.
Just last week, the government announced proposed new rules aimed at protecting people from unscrupulous contractors.
According to a news release, the new legislation would “ensure homeowners get an upfront price and timeline for most home improvement projects in a written contract.”
‘Buyer beware’ in Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan does not have any comparable rules.
The deputy director of the Consumer Protection Division, Larry Wilson said the province does receive complaints from homeowners about contractors not honouring their agreements, or about a lack of clarity around what work will get done when.
Wilson said his office will sometimes attempt to act as a mediator in disputes but “we can’t, at the end of the day, order (the contractor) to do anything.”
“We can make an order that he comply. But if he doesn’t comply then it takes an order of the court to take further action,” Wilson explained.
Wilson said people who hire contractors in Saskatchewan are responsible to protect themselves.
“If you, of your own free will, contact a contractor, there’s no specific coverage in that respect other than your own due diligence and make sure you’re working with the right person.”