Nauwigewauk resident Peter Bourque thought he was doing a good deed by hiring Valley Roofing of Quispamsis to replace his leaky roof after friends recommended the company.
"I got a couple of quotes and I decided to go with him, because being a young guy starting in a new business, I just would like to support the local up-and-comer," he said.
But after hiring the owner, Craig Schulz, and sending him a $3,000 deposit, Bourque said it quickly became clear the roofing job wasn't going to get done.
What followed was an endless cycle of what Bourque described as calling and speaking with Schulz, who would come up with excuses for why he couldn't do the work on his house located in a rural community about 30 kilometres from Saint John.
On a Friday, weeks after the roofer was allegedly supposed to get started, the frustrated customer was at his wit's end.
Bourque said he sent Schulz an email and text, as well as left a voicemail, giving him a Sunday deadline to return his deposit. If he didn't, he was going to the police and posting about the company on social media to warn others about Valley Roofing.
He said he heard nothing, so he posted to Facebook. After some more back and forth following the post, Bourque said Schulz finally told him he wouldn't be able to return the money.
Bourque said he spoke with an officer at the Hampton RCMP detachment, who told him the issue with the business is a civil matter, and he was advised to file a claim against him in small claims court.
In November, he filed a claim against Schulz in court in Saint John, hoping to get his money back.
It turns out he's not the only one.
Small-claims cases pile up against contractor
Hilary Steele is also listed as a claimant in documents filed with the Saint John Law Courts. She and her husband claim they lost $4,000 to the contractor. Steele told the newspaper they hired Shulz after they sold their house. They needed to have a roof built for the new owners.
"We just paid in advance," she said. "This summer, [the new owners] had a really hard time getting in contact with him. They'd call us and [say] he'd cancel on them. In the end, we realized he was not going to show up for the job."
While Bourque and Steele filed in November, another claimant, Ryan McLean, filed in September. McLean claims he lost $5,675 after paying in advance. A comment on the small-claims form says no work was ever done, and the owner hasn't returned calls for two months.
Bourque said he has still been unable to reach the contractor to serve his claim.
None of these allegations have been proven in court. The Telegraph-Journal requested comment from Schulz at a number listed on the court documents, but did not receive a response. Bourque said Schulz took down his company Facebook page, shortly after he posted about his experience with the business online.
Since his post, Bourque said he's heard from about a dozen people in the region who had similar experiences with the roofer.
Rod Gillis, a civil litigation lawyer in Saint John, said in cases like these, it's difficult for the police to prove criminal intent. He said the best approach is to file a civil suit, and he recommended using both the company and owner's names.
"If it's a question of fraud, it becomes difficult to prove, and on a criminal side, unless the claim is being advanced by a bank that's saying, 'We've been defrauded out of $200,000,' you're not going to find many police agencies that would even do much more than nod and take your name and number," Gillis said.
Const. Jeremy Piper, with the Hampton RCMP detachment, where Bourque reported the issue, said the force is investigating, but have received only one complaint about the company.
Contractor's track record raises questions
This isn't the first year disgruntled customers have attempted to take Schulz to court.
According to an affidavit filed by Luke Mosher and Joshua Innis in 2019, Schulz carried out roofing work for their company, First City Ventures Ltd., in July 2018. But in August the same year, they discovered the roof was leaking in several places.
"The claimants attempted to contact Mr. Schulz, but he refused to return and address the issues," reads the claim.
That September, Mosher and Innis hired A Buyer's Choice Home Inspections to evaluate the problem, resulting in the company identifying "several areas of poor workmanship," according to the claim.
The report, contained in the claim, lists examples where there were water and moisture stains on the floor from water penetration, staining on the plaster ceiling, and light visible around a plumbing vent, among other issues.
In January 2020, Schulz was ordered to pay $16,816.48 to Mosher, Innis and First City Ventures Ltd. by small claims adjudicator Tammy L. Moore, according to court records.
Ron Hutton, executive director of the New Brunswick Roofing Contractors Association, said issues surrounding Valley Roofing of Quispamsis casts the industry in a negative light. He recommends consumers ask for references, never provide a deposit, and ensure the contractor has WorkSafeNB coverage and liability insurance.
"If you're looking for the lowest possible price, sometimes you get into situations that you don't want to be in," Hutton said. "If a contractor quotes you and says they need money to buy the material, that's usually a red flag. If the contractor can't finance the material (...), you shouldn't be doing that."
He also suggested buying the roofing material and hiring a contractor for the labour. If something like the alleged situation with Valley Roofing arises, the police should be contacted.
"If things go south, you still got the material. But you shouldn't be putting out money as a deposit for work that you haven't seen done – period," he said.
"Use your gut feeling. When a person arrives to do the estimate, how are they dressed, how do they approach you, what's their manner? Are they professional?"
Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal