Nightmare before Christmas ends with a home
The Smith family, Matthew, Courtenay (corr)and son Leo, 3, happy to be in their new in home before Christmas after it took three years to build. Photo: Jay Cronan
Eight weeks ago Courtenay Trinder and her partner Matt Smith had given up any hope of moving into their Forde home with their son Leo in time for Christmas.
The family, whose plight featured on the front page of The Canberra Times on August 23, had been waiting for almost two years for the $300,000 four-bedroom home to be completed.
Last Monday they took up residence thanks to the intervention of Rod Jenkins, of the Emmadale Group, who had been recommended to them by Jerry Howard, of the ACT branch of the Master Builders Association.
How The Canberra Times reported the story back in August.
Mr Howard had rung up at 6am on the morning The Canberra Times article appeared, Mr Smith said.
''He said he was all over it [our case] and that he was going to be making some calls.''
Until that point the couple, who described their nightmare build as the hardest thing that had ever happened to them, had been unable to find a single builder in the ACT who would pick up their job.
Two builders had already gone bust after contracting for the work, there were serious issues with the certification of the work that had been carried out, and their insurer just didn't want to know them.
And when they turned to the ACT government for assistance they were faced with a complex and Byzantine bureaucracy that offered much sympathy but no active support.
''I really got to the point where if another person said to me 'I'm so sorry - but there is nothing I can do to help you' I was going to scream,'' Ms Trinder said.
''It is hard to say what was worse: the inadequacies of our first two builders or the bureaucratic maze we became trapped in when we tried to turn things around. The combination of the two was horrible.''
Mr Smith said the completion of the home had saved the family. Neither he nor Ms Trinder can speak too highly of Mr Howard who made the project a priority and began work before a deposit had even been paid.
''To have a builder who would actually ring you was astounding,'' Ms Trinder said. Both agree the decision to contact The Canberra Times was the turning point.
''We are very pleased with what happened as a result of that,'' Ms Trinder said.
''But you have to ask why is it necessary to go to the media to ensure people just do their jobs.''
Her initial email to the paper, composed at 3am during a sleepless night as an act of sheer desperation, was the start of a continuing Canberra Times investigation that has, to date, looked at the collapse of four ACT building companies, the ripple effect on suppliers and subcontractors, inadequacies within the builders insurance model that caps payouts at $84,500 and has also exposed defects in two apartment developments.
Ms Trinder said while Leo, who starts school in the new year, had picked up on her dislike of the building profession, even to the extent of coming out with some surprising statements on occasion, there was one major exception.
''Leo keeps hugging Rod Jenkins,'' she said. ''He follows him around the site and hangs onto his leg.''
Ms Trinder and Mr Smith believe the territory government needs to establish a ''one stop shop'' ACT residents can go to to discuss issues with builders - and that it should have case officers who are empowered to follow issues through to resolution.
It might not eliminate shonky builders but it would make cleaning up after them far less painful.