Toronto retirees say life savings lost after door-to-door reno pitch

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Two weeks ago, Robin Rushton was doing yard work outside his Scarborough home when he was approached by a man who asked if he wanted his chimney capped.

Rushton and his partner, Judy Poirier, who are both 73-year-old retired teachers, agreed to pay for the service, which can protect a chimney from animals and the elements.

“We had been wanting to do this for a while,” Poirier said. “The guy said $800. So we thought, ‘Great, sure, go ahead.'”

That decision to hire a company called Eagle Eye Roofing and Masonry on Bloor Street West, which is not the same company as Eagleeye Roofing Inc. in Etobicoke, kicked off a series of events that Poirier says led to the couple losing their life savings. 

Over a period of days, Poirier said three individuals associated with Eagle Eye Roofing and Masonry noticed other things on the property that needed to be fixed, starting with their deck, which they agreed to sand and finish for $2,500.

While completing the chimney work, one worker said he identified damage on the roof. Originally, it was just the shingles that needed to be replaced. Then, more senior workers  — a roofer and an “inspector” — claimed to notice more extensive problems requiring structural repairs that would cost $62,000 for materials and labour.

Over the next two days, Poirier said that quote rose steadily to beyond $100,000. 

‘Heavy scare tactics’

Poirier said the men used “very heavy scare tactics” to convince the homeowners that they needed to do the work immediately or their roof was going to cave in.

“He used the words that there was damp wood, rotting wood, broken wood, mould. The roof was going to collapse. It was dangerous. Winter is coming,” Poirier said. 

“We were terrified. We thought, ‘Oh my God, this is a blessing in disguise that this happened, because imagine if the roof had fallen in on us.'”

In total, the teachers said they paid $800 for the chimney, $1,500 to refurbish their deck, and paid a $5,000 deposit for the shingle replacement, all in cash.

When the contractors said additional work on the roof needed to be done, they requested Poirier give the contractor a $40,000 bank draft. Rushton also provided a bank draft of his own for $30,000.

The bank drafts were made out to a person they had never met — not the roofing company or its employees. Poirier said she thought the person was the individual supplying the materials or an architectural firm doing design work.

CBC Toronto was not able to locate the individual who received the $70,000 in bank drafts.

Poirier said their requests for itemized invoices and other paperwork were rebuffed, which eventually made them suspicious enough to call in a friend who has contracting experience that they trusted to evaluate the work being done.

What he found shocked Poirier and Rushton, and caused them to kick the crew off their property.

Dean Lord, who’s worked as a framer for 26 years, said he found there was nothing structurally wrong with the roof that would have required such an extensive rebuild.

Lord said their roof could have used a new set of shingles, which would have cost around $8,500, but the structure did not need to be replaced.

“There was no water damage and no water damage to the insulation. There was no water stains on the framing of the rafters,” Lord said.

“That roof was not falling down. It was structurally fine.”

Lord criticized the work the company was doing as “garbage” and said the quote they provided for the job was “outrageous.”

“They were patching it with a few sheets of plywood at $300 expense and a couple two-by-fours and that’s not a $100,000 job,” Lord said.

Company says it was told to leave before it could rectify work

Derek Johnson, a manager at Eagle Eye Roofing and Masonry, admitted in a phone interview that the homeowners weren’t happy with the work the company had done, but said the workers were trying to rectify it when they were told to leave.

“We have been trying to contact [the homeowners] several times and we can’t seem to get hold of them,” Johnson said. 

“It’s not like we’re taking the money and run.”

Johnson refused to answer questions about the cost of the work or if the company plans to refund Poirier and Rushton, saying the owner of the company makes financial decisions and is away on vacation.

CBC Toronto reached out to the owner multiple times, but was unable to reach him by the time of publication. A search for Eagle Eye Roofing and Masonry in the Ontario Business Registry couldn’t find a business registered to that name. 

A spokesperson with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, with whom businesses are required to register for insurance purposes, said it also doesn’t have a business registered to the name Eagle Eye Roofing and Masonry or the contact information provided on the company’s website. But the spokesperson said it’s possible the company registered using a different address, phone number or legal name.

The business address listed on the company’s website is a separate business that rents out postal boxes and accepts mail. 

Police warn of surge in home renovation scams

The situation is unfolding as police warn of a recent surge in home renovation frauds.

In a news release last month, Toronto police said suspects usually solicit business door-to-door, hand out flyers for fraudulent or non-existent companies, and offer services for roofing, paving or fencing.

Police say the work is usually never completed, is substandard or is done with poor quality products. 

“Suspects often target elderly and vulnerable citizens using high pressure tactics to commence work. They usually demand payment in the form of cash or bank draft,” the release said.

Toronto police confirmed Poirier and Rushton filed a formal complaint with them on Nov. 13, adding the investigation is ongoing.

Armed with Lord’s assessment that the work was both unnecessary and substandard, Poirier and Rushton rushed to their respective banks to ask to reverse the bank drafts. But it was too late.

Bank staff said there was nothing they could do. The money was gone.

“I’m an emotional wreck … I can’t tell you how terrible it is,” Poirier said. “We’ve had to cancel our vacation we were going on. I don’t know how, if, we’ll ever be able to build our savings up again.”

Poirier said she is speaking out to warn others.

“I just don’t want people to be caught up in the same situation,” she said. “If somebody tries to tell you there’s anything wrong with your home, stop immediately. Sit back, take a breath and find other people that are in the same business and get other assessments.”

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