Manitoba builder hit with lawsuits, stop work orders after complaints about shoddy construction, mould
A Manitoba builder has come under fire after three clients say the company didn’t complete their home and cottage projects as planned — and in two cases, the construction projects were riddled with mould and other deficiencies, the clients allege.
Two of those clients have now filed lawsuits against the contractor and the other had stop work orders placed on the property.
Marco and Michelle Costantini hired Steve Collins Contracting Ltd. in December 2021 to build their dream cottage in Hillside Beach, on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg.
They’re now suing the company for what they claim was shoddy work on a cabin they aren’t even sure they can safely use, and which they fear they will have to tear down.
“The deficiencies are very clear,” said Marco Costantini. “My floor is sagging. It looks like a banana.”
They hired the contractor after hearing a positive reference from another customer.
“I wish I had never hired this guy,” Costantini told CBC News. “I wish I had a time machine.”
Two other clients, Alexis and Calvin Bruneau, hired Steve Collins Contracting to build a $400,000 home in Tyndall, Man. They say they were shocked when they discovered the home was filled with mould and could have made them sick.
“If we would have moved in here, we were told within six months the mould would have started eating through the walls,” Alexis Bruneau told CBC.
The third client, Cynthia Chartrand, paid Steve Collins $250,000 to build her a house. In her lawsuit, she says the builder poured cement for the sub-basement and installed concrete blocks before abandoning construction.
The contractor denies the allegations and none have been proven in court.
Long list of problems alleged
Costantini says he was originally expecting his Hillside Beach cottage to be completed last May, at a cost of around $400,000. He estimates the contractor finished less than half the work on the cabin.
A lawsuit filed by the Costantinis in January against the company, which is owned by Steve Collins of Tyndall, alleges there were extensive problems with the build.
Marco Costantini says there were issues from the start, including the fact the cabin was “10 feet in the wrong spot,” without the change in location being communicated.
“I thought, ‘This is crazy,'” said Costantini.
WATCH | Marco Costantini shows the exterior of the cabin wall:
The lawsuit says the company failed to complete the work on schedule and to follow the applicable bylaws and building codes for construction.
The claim outlines a long list of alleged deficiencies, including problems with the installation of drywall, house wrap, the septic tank and water supply.
It also says mould is forming on the exposed wood structure in the crawl space due to a lack of water drainage and vapour barrier, and that there is “significant potential for foundation movement” due to frost protection for the house footing that was not installed as required by code.
Costantini has since hired his own engineer to go through the cottage to see what would have to be fixed to make it safe.
The lawyer for Steve Collins Contracting, Joshua Lieberman, said he can’t comment at this time as the matter is before the courts.
In a statement of defence filed in court, Steve Collins denies the allegations in the lawsuit.
Builder locked out, counterclaim alleges
The construction was carried out “in accordance with the specifications contained in the engineered drawings,” the defence statement says.
There were issues obtaining construction permits that delayed the start of construction, it says, and an “exceptionally cold winter and exceptionally wet spring caused additional delays.”
A counterclaim filed in court by Steve Collins Construction seeks $192,975.50, plus other costs from the client.
It alleges the Costantinis made “changes, modifications and additions” to the plans throughout construction, increasing the cost.
At one point, a remediation on the exterior deck of the building required an inspection, but a delay by the inspector meant some of the work couldn’t continue, the court document alleges.
It also says that in late October 2022, the Costantinis barred the construction company and sub-contractors from going to the site and finishing the work and then changed the locks at the property, in contravention of the building agreement.
The counterclaim alleges the Costantinis’ actions damaged the company’s reputation and resulted in “the loss of future projects.”
But Costantini says he feels like he’s been manipulated, and he wants Manitoba laws to protect consumers in cases like this.
“If you’re going to build something, you want somebody to make sure that it’s being built to code and it’s going to be safe for your family,” said Costantini, who has four kids.
“Things need to change in the industry,” he said. “I just don’t see how this can keep continue going on with … nobody taking accountability, nobody making sure that the homeowners are being protected.”
‘It was like a sauna’
Alexis Bruneau says when she walked into the home Steve Collins Contracting Ltd. was building for her family in January, she was overwhelmed by the conditions.
“It was like a sauna,” said Bruneau, who later learned the home was riddled with mould.
“We had puddles actually on the ground,” she said. “That’s how much moisture was in our house.”
The Bruneaus signed an agreement with the company in August 2021 to build their home in Tyndall, northeast of Winnipeg.
The couple wanted a new home that was close to where they work and that would accommodate the needs of their 13-year-old daughter, who uses a wheelchair.
They were expecting the house to be ready by last summer, but it’s still not finished. It became infested with mould and was subject to stop work orders.
“This whole build is just a nightmare,” Bruneau told CBC, calling the experience stressful. “I don’t wish this on anyone.”
Last September, a building inspector issued a stop work order at the construction site, saying the inspection discovered wet insulation and that “it was obvious there was water coming in from the outside and getting in behind the vapour barrier.”
The inspection also found mould in the subfloor and the crawlspace, the stop work order said.
WATCH | Video shows mould in home:
After the issue was addressed, the building inspector then issued another stop work order for the house construction in January, again due to the presence of mould.
“We got someone to go down in the crawlspace and they basically said, ‘your house is infested with mould,'” Bruneau said.
As a result, a remediation company had to tear down walls that were affected, she said.
David Ganetsky, CEO of Enviro Doctors — the company hired by the builder after both the September and January stop work orders — told CBC they “discovered a lot more mould than we ever expected, to be quite honest.”
“Mould releases mould spores into the air … which you can’t see with the naked eye. And that’s what makes you sick,” Ganetsky said.
After consulting a lawyer, Alexis Bruneau said she and her husband agreed to cancel the construction contract with Steve Collins Contracting, following a request from the builder.
Requests from CBC to talk to Collins were not granted.
In hindsight, Bruneau advises anyone who wants to have a home built to “research your builder” and find someone who “has been doing it for a long time.”
“Go and talk to their prior customers,” she said.
Kept $250K without doing work, lawsuit alleges
In the third case, a Winnipeg customer is seeking $250,000, plus other costs, in a lawsuit filed March 7 involving construction of a home in the rural municipality of Reynolds, in southeastern Manitoba.
Cynthia Chartrand alleges she signed a contract with Steve Collins Contracting in October 2021 for $350,000 for the dwelling, with work to start in November that year and a requested possession date of June 30, 2022.
The client deposited money into a trust account to pay for the project. The lawsuit alleges Collins requested a $100,000 advance, even though “no work had been undertaken.”
Further payments were made from the trust account, leading to allegations that the defendants were “unjustly enriched,” the lawsuit says.
It says Steve Collins Contracting “knowingly and voluntarily retained the benefit of the funds without performing the work.”
Besides Steve Collins and his company, the lawsuit also names lawyer Richard Middleton as a defendant, saying he was involved with setting up the building contract, the trust account and the payment schedule.
The claim says the lawyer “knew or ought to have known that the defendants … were experiencing financial difficulties and were requesting to draw money for purposes other than for the work or materials required to complete the contract.”
It alleges Collins abandoned the construction without completing the dwelling, despite receiving $250,000 from Chartrand.
Middleton told CBC in an email that he is “not in a position to comment on this matter.” Collins’s lawyer also declined comment.
No statement of defence has been filed by Middleton, Collins or his company.
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