Living in Fear

What's wrong with this picture?
What’s wrong with this picture?
Everyone wanted to look at our septic tank

I told you that we broke up with our previous contractor. That post (this one) was my most popular post ever. (Even more popular than this one about how we found the old septic tank in the yard.)

I suppose we’re all drawn to bad news which is why, to mix my metaphors, the media can make us feel like the world is going to heck in a hand basket if we don’t take the bad news with a grain of salt.

I didn’t even go into detail in my post. I just said we are in a contract dispute.

Do I want to give you the details? Absolutely. The whole point of this blog is to tell the story completely so that you get a clear idea of what it’s like to retrofit an older home in the real world. The good as well as the bad. The myths and the truths. How the system works and where the system breaks down.

I think you can guess why I hesitated to share more about our dispute.

That’s right, we don’t want to get sued!

Trying to catch the leaks.
Trying to catch the leaks.

In Canada you can sue anyone for anything, can’t you? Even if you have no case? We don’t want to pay a lawyer to defend us in court because we have very little financial resources left and we want to finish renovating our house.

We don’t even want to pay a lawyer to find out if we could sue the contractor.

Luckily, however, we have performed in a lot of plays with community theatre companies. When you do that you meet people from all walks of life who are scratching that artistic itch. Theatre creates a special bond between people and so, when we asked an old theatre buddy for a legal opinion, he obliged.

Thank you singing dancing acting lawyer friend!

As a result, when we started to question the contract and the invoices, we had a general idea of our legal footing. (If you are in a similar position to ours, I recommend you get that legal opinion, even if you have to pay for it!)

The laws of Canada exist to protect us. However, it seems that the fear of somebody suing us stops us from seeking justice. Or maybe it’s just the fear of legal fees.

In the renovation industry especially, this seems to be a real problem. Most people renovate a home once, but never again. If they are unhappy with their contractor, they most likely will pay them off or put up with them until the project is finished because they are already exhausted and don’t have energy and/or money to fight.

I remember when my parents renovated our house. I was maybe 6 years old. My Dad describes the final few weeks as just wanting to get them off the property. Something about how they didn’t want to do things the way he wanted them done.

So we renovate once and only once.

Then, for the rest of our lives, we tell everyone the horror story and how we will never do it again. This is a huge, unspoken reason why people are much more likely to bulldoze a perfectly good house than renovate it. In a warming planet where every wasteful action contributes to climate change, we have to address this problem. We have to make renovating a positive experience.

Well, Leanne and I don’t like to live in fear and I have learned that words like “slander” and “defamation” don’t apply if I simply tell you what happened and what the experience was like for us.

I’m not going to attack anyone personally. Disappointed?

I do feel a civic duty to warn others about this company, but there are other avenues to do that so I don’t have to clutter up the blog with complaints.

First of all, it’s important to know the rules. By email, our contractor told us JustPayMemesome things about our legal position which are simply not true. I think if we didn’t know any better it could have made us panic and do what he asked on Pinterest: “just pay the damn invoice already.” This is how paying a lawyer for a legal opinion can be a real bargain.

So, do these ideas sound correct to you?

  1. A contractor can put a “stop work order” on a project, which makes it illegal for any work to proceed until they are paid.
  2. No matter who does the work listed on our contract–you, you father-in-law or another contractor after the first one has left, the Contractor must be paid for it.
  3. It is our responsibility to know the cost of any extras that were added that were not part of the original estimate.
  4. The Contractor’s management fee is applied to the whole project, including work which was not listed in the contract.

Just in case anyone has ever told you any of these things, let’s take these one by one:

1. Only the municipality can impose a stop work order.

2. What? You have to pay twice?

3. How are you supposed to know how much something is going to cost if your contractor doesn’t tell you? That’s why in your contract you want something requiring signed change orders so you can agree to an added cost before the work is done.

4. So if I go to a spa to get my hair done and then I go to a different spa to do my nails,  I have to pay the first spa 15% of the bill from the second spa? Nope.

On March 24th, 2016, in a letter to the contractor’s lawyer, I wrote, “We ask for copies of all invoices for materials and wage records (pay slips) for labour which [the contractor] has listed on their invoices. This information was requested in January and has not been provided. Since the hourly rates charged for [the contractor]’s employees are at issue, we further ask for a list of all employees who have worked on our project, their titles and their professional credentials.”

The contractor promised to provide this information on April 1st, 2016. To date, he has not done so.

That’s where we stand now, scraping together the remainder of our resources to finish Hammond Forever House, waiting for more information with which to resolve this dispute and waiting to learn whether or not we are being sued.

If any of this sounds familiar, I encourage you to get some professional advice. It doesn’t have to be a lawyer, it could be one of the following organizations:

The Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association

The Better Business Bureau

If you think your situation fits the definition of fraud, you can consider reporting it to The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at

or even the RCMP

If you are unhappy with your contractor, you can post a review on the following sites. I get the impression clients who are unhappy tend not to bother doing this–maybe it’s because they are just exhausted with the whole business and don’t want to deal with it anymore. Maybe if more people wrote reviews that were not simply puff-pieces, these sites would be more useful.

Home Advisor:




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James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

2 thoughts on “Living in Fear”

  1. We are being sued by Ridgewater Homes. Although we are not at liberty to share our story we are grateful to James for sharing his.

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