Calgary

Calgary garage builder and renovation company leaves contractors, homeowners with $4M in losses

It's not exactly clear what brought down one of the city's garage builders and basement renovators, but Planit Builders Ltd. left behind a staggering amount of unpaid bills in Calgary and Edmonton.

Man behind Planit Builders Ltd. is back in business after defaulting on plan to repay creditors

Mike Huber, former president of Planit Builders Ltd., told CBC News that he is starting a small home improvement business in Calgary. Planit Builders defaulted on a proposal to pay back creditors $4 million. (Linkedin, Bryan Labby/CBC)

It's not exactly clear what brought down one of the city's garage builders and basement renovators, but Planit Builders Ltd. left behind a staggering amount of unpaid bills in Calgary and Edmonton.

It owes $3.9 million to the electricians, plumbers, drywallers and other trades it hired over the years, according to documents filed under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

And the man behind the company, Mike Huber, says he is back in the home improvement business in Calgary — trying to establish a successful small business. 

As many as 30 homeowners were caught up in Planit Builders' meltdown after 18 of those sub-contractors placed more than $320,000 in builders liens on their properties.  

And it's unclear how many projects were left unfinished after the company stopped working.

Katie Leclair and her husband took out a $17,000 loan for a garage that Planit was supposed to build for them in Cochrane. They used a third-party finance company but the work never started on their garage. They're still paying off the loan. 

Major stress, anxiety

 "That's a huge amount of money that we're out, that we're paying every month," said Leclair.

"It was horrible, major stress, major anxiety. We're just blue collar workers. We don't make huge amounts of money," she said.

Homeowners with a builders lien on their property will have to either pay off the amount or negotiate a settlement with the sub-contractors before the lien can be removed.

John Napper, left, Katie Leclair and Rory Turnbull. Napper and Turnbull's companies weren't paid for work they did for Planit Builders Ltd., while Leclair is still paying off a loan for a garage that was never built. (Bryan Labby/CBC, Katie Leclair)

The Better Business Bureau cautions homeowners that they should speak to neighbours, friends and co-workers before hiring a home renovation company. They should also ask companies about insurance coverage, business licences and any relevant trade certificates.

The BBB is a good resource for people to check on a company's ratings, reviews or complaints, said spokesperson Shawna-Kay Thomas. 

Calgary-based H and M Mechanical Ltd. is owed $250,000 for all of the work and materials it provided as one of Planit's sub-contractors.

"We're lucky enough that we're still operating and able to continue, but a hit like that for any company is huge, let alone a company our size — it's massive," said Rory Turnbull, an estimator with H and M.

Turnbull says he's troubled to hear that Huber is back in business.

"The fact that somebody can run a company this way, build up this massive amount of debt, become bankrupt and then the next day start up another company ... there has to be something changed because companies like us can't keep absorbing losses like this. And then people like that keep going on to do whatever they feel like the next day," he said.

Fresh start, unpaid bills

In a text message to CBC News, Huber said he has started a new company. However, he did not give any details.

"I am working in my sole capacity with a few home improvement clients," he said. "The goal is to establish a successful small business that is beneficial for its customers, trades, employees and myself." 

A court search shows Planit Builders' financial troubles may have started as early as 2014, when the first in a series of civil claims related to debt and damages was filed against the company.

It all came to a head in the fall of 2017 when Huber, the company's president, filed a notice of intention to make a proposal under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

Planit was a private company that was incorporated in 2008. It had three shareholders, with Huber and Sonny Belanger each holding a 45-per-cent share and Bridge Capital Alberta Ltd. holding the remaining 10 per cent.

According to the proposal, the creditors would be paid 75 cents for every dollar owed.

The company agreed and so, too, did an overwhelming number of its creditors at a meeting in January. They wanted Planit to succeed so they could eventually get paid for the work they did.

As many as five of those sub-contractors agreed to put up even more money to keep the company afloat. However, by June an official notice was filed saying the company had defaulted on its proposal under the Act.

Those creditors are still owed anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to nearly $700,000, the highest unpaid debt, which is owed to Big Al's Texturing Ltd., a Calgary-based drywall and ceiling texturing company.

According to a spokesperson for Service Alberta, Planit Builders Ltd. was licensed as a prepaid contractor from February 2009 through March 2018.

Neil Levine says Service Alberta has one open investigation regarding a complaint received in September 2017.

He says six investigations were previously conducted between 2015 and 2018.

"As a result of one of the investigations, the company was issued a written warning for non-compliance with contract requirements under consumer protection laws," said Levine.

Levine says the other complaints that were investigated could not be proven or supported by sufficient evidence or were withdrawn by complainants.

Sons of Electric worked with Planit for years and watched the bills pile up until they reached $115,000 — but the company's losses are close to $180,000.

'It's now a nightmare'

Owner John Napper says Planit would make a few payments here and there, but then more and more time went by without receiving any money. Napper says he was promised payment but it never happened.

"All of a sudden it got further and further between payments, and we're still doing work and still being promised that we're going to get paid and I wanted to keep the work going," said Napper.

Napper says he continued to work with Planit and its owners after the bankruptcy proposal was approved, hoping there would be a turnaround. But he says he lost another $60,000 in labour and materials as the company slowly crashed and burned.

"We were sold a dream, I guess you could say, and here it is. It's now a nightmare," said Napper.

'Our laws need to change'

Huber would not answer questions about whether he has paid back any money to any of his creditors or whether he plans to make any payments.

"It was unfortunate that Planit was unable to acquire the contracts, lending and projects required to fulfil the proposal and operational costs of the business. These challenges, along with the economy, ultimately led the company to its default, layoff of dedicated staff and finally its closure," he wrote. 

Napper says it's going to take a while to recover from all of the unpaid work that he did for Planit Builders. He's also disappointed that Huber is up and running again.

"I don't think that's right.… I think that's wrong, I think our laws need to change," he said.

About the Author

Bryan Labby

Enterprise reporter

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.