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We need protection: home owner

Date

David Ellery

Isabelle Gonzalez and Yannick Arekion at their home in Bonner, which they had to complete as owner-builders.

Isabelle Gonzalez and Yannick Arekion at their home in Bonner, which they had to complete as owner-builders. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

A Bonner man who was forced to finish constructing his home as an owner-builder after his contractor defaulted says social media should be used to protect ACT consumers looking for a builder.

Yannick Arekion, a public servant who works in Kingston, alleges he is $175,000 out pocket after Matthew Gainsford's Design Tec Investment Group failed to complete his $400,000-plus home.

He is now considering setting up a consumer watch website, where customers could record their negative experiences and builders could post detailed information about themselves.

''At the moment the [ACT] building industry is like the Wild West,'' he said. ''Not a single week goes by without an incident. Anyone can create a company and become a builder.''

Design Tec Investment Group went into forced liquidation after action by Bendigo Bank on October 23. The liquidator's representative, Mark Lieberenz, has advised former clients not to pay money to Mr Gainsford directly, or to the company's account.

''Mr Gainsford, to date, has not complied with his statutory responsibilities as a director under the Corporations Act and the liquidator is currently operating without access to the company's books or customer records,'' Mr Lieberenz, an associate director of Heard Phillips in Adelaide, said.

''The liquidator intends to seek the assistance of ASIC [the Australian Securities and Investments Commission] to ensure Mr Gainsford complies with his statutory duties.''

Mr Lieberenz is aware of at least two more customers affected by the collapse but said without records it was difficult to determine how many families may have been hit.

Mr Gainsford has until Tuesday to supply the necessary information. He has refused to comment on allegations that he is still operating as a builder from an office in Mitchell and said he had returned telephone calls to the liquidator three times in the past week, a claim Mr Lieberenz rejects. Mr Gainsford said Mr Arekion has no basis for his complaint. His house is finished and he (Gainsford) is still owed money for the work.

Mr Arekion bought the Bonner block in June 2010. The 120-day construction contract was signed that December. The first payment to Design Tec was made in February 2011 and work finally started in March. Mr Arekion alleges the house had only reached lock-up stage by September 2011, even though Design Tec had received $300,000. In January this year his lawyers broke the contract on the grounds of non-completion.

''No builder or builder's labourer contracted by Matthew [Gainsford] came [to the site] after October 2011,'' he said. ''I received a statement from his lawyer saying work had ceased due to issues over the windows. Once we broke the contract I did the owner-builder's course and, with the bank's support, took over the build.''

Work that needed to be completed included tiling, floating floors, the front doors, internal painting, the fit-out of the kitchen and the bathrooms and electrical and plumbing work, he said. Mr Arekion and his partner, Isabelle Gonzalez, were only able to move in in April this year, 16 months after the four-month construction contract was signed.

He said there is a real need for more information to be made available to individuals and families planning to build a home and he believes existing regulators and industry bodies, including the Master Builders' Association, the Housing Industry Association and ACTPLA appeared to favour builders when it came to disagreements and disputes.

''It is the customers who need to be in control,'' he said. ''I have heard of builders showing customers nice houses and telling them they built them when, in fact, they did not.

''There is no easy way for customers to know.''

The director of construction services with the ACT's Environment and Sustainable Development department, Craig Simmons, is sympathetic to customers who have fallen prey to dodgy operators or had jobs fall over because a builder went broke. He says his officers do the best they can.

''We can't do anything about problems we don't know about,'' he said. ''We have to receive complaints in a form that complies with the regulations or it defeats the purpose. We cannot police compliance issues if we are not compliant ourselves.''

Mr Lieberenz said the liquidator was not chasing Design Tec customers for outstanding monies at this time and he realised there would be counterclaims in any case.

''My main message to any customer is to contact their building contract insurer and not to pay any additional funds if they are contacted directly by anyone formerly associated with the company. The liquidator is the only person legally entitled to receive payment,'' he said.

He is aware of claims that Design Tec Investments may have been trading while insolvent and that funds paid to the company may have been channelled into other companies that have used them to accumulate/develop other assets.

''These allegations will be investigated,'' he said.

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