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How protected are B.C. homeowners when home renovation projects go sideways?

Click to play video: 'Consumer Matters: Homeowners seek better home renovation protections'
Consumer Matters: Homeowners seek better home renovation protections
WATCH: When it comes to home renovations, contractors in B.C. are not required to be licensed and homeowners have few protections when things go wrong. Consumer Matters reporter Anne Drewa has more on the calls for change. – Feb 28, 2023

Months after he hired a contractor to renovate his home, Scott Leathem says he’s still dealing with numerous deficiencies. “You’re getting screwed by the people that you hired for lack of a better term,” Leathem said.

Back in May 2020, the Pitt Meadows resident says he hired a contractor to renovate his home. He says he was quoted approximately $100,000 and told it would take seven weeks to complete. Leathem says he put down $50,000 upfront and the demolition started immediately but eventually came to a standstill.

“It was supply chain issues, we can’t find anything, everybody is short-staffed. Everything that went wrong was because of COVID,” Leathem told Consumer Matters.

Leathem eventually moved back into his home, but says little work had been completed.

“The house was livable, but it felt almost like camping,” he said.

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He says he fired the contractor. Leathem did not have a contract.

“I am shocked that there is no oversight for this kind of work,” he said. “There are pieces missing to the system as a whole. After putting out $100,000 in renos, I don’t have any money to hire a lawyer and even if you did win it’s like getting water from stone.”

In B.C., contractors are not required to be licensed.

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Consumer Protection BC – the province’s regulator told Consumer Matters the laws that its responsible for are pretty narrow in scope in terms of when it can intervene. For home renovations, the regulator says it would intervene in situations when no work has been done yet and if a contract did not contain the required contents or the consumer did not get a copy of the contract.

“In BC, we are responsible for future performance contracts. So if partial work has been done, then the avenue for a consumer is to either go to court or the civil resolution tribunal,” Consumer Protection BC spokesperson Tatiana Chabeaux-Smith said.

Consumer Protection BC said consumers dealing with contractors who are scamming them out of money should report those matters to the police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

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Click to play video: 'Consumer Matters: Homeowners say they’ve lost thousands after contractor leaves renovation projects unfinished'
Consumer Matters: Homeowners say they’ve lost thousands after contractor leaves renovation projects unfinished

However, in Alberta, it appears there are stronger rules under its consumer protection laws when it comes to contractors, including home renovators. In Alberta, a contractor who requests a deposit must be licensed and bonded.

In addition, Alberta’s Consumer Investigation Unit reviews consumer complaints and investigates potential violations, including serious cases that may involve criminal offences such as fraud.

However, consumers may also have to consider legal action for compensation if they are unable to resolve a dispute with the contractor.

BC’s Ministry of Housing told Consumer Matters it is not currently considering legislation similar to the province of Alberta. Still, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of BC says it’s pushing for change in British Columbia hoping government moves towards some form of licensing.

“I think it would certainly mitigate some of the problems that exist because you are going to professionalize an industry that right now is really unregulated in most cases,” said The Canadian Home Builders’ Association of BC CEO Neil Moody.

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While B.C.’s Ministry of Housing does not provide oversight of renovation contractors in the province, if a homeowner is hiring a contractor to do electrical or gas work as part of a renovation, the contractor must hold a licence from Technical Safety BC and must ensure work is done by qualified workers.

As of January 2023 – electrical and gas contractors in B.C. must include their license numbers in digital marketing materials and will soon be required to include their licence number on all marketing materials.

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