Ontario Construction News staff writer
The Home Construction Regulatory Authority (HCRA) is freezing the assets of Highbridge Construction, in the wake of the Ottawa-based company suddenly ceasing operations on Feb. 3. Highbridge’s licence has also been suspended as the HCRA investigates.
The company based in the city’s eastern Orleans neighborhood attributes its failure to what it describes as “gross theft” and problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Several clients have complained about incomplete or faulty projects, and say they have lost significant amounts of money.
In the notice sent to Highbridge Construction (licensed as ViloHam Trades Inc. since January 2021), the HCRA cited the company for “abruptly ceasing operations while it had at least five ongoing new home construction projects underway.” In a news release, the HCRA said the particular concern is that deposit money was taken from purchasers as part of these projects but was not returned as the company claimed insolvency.
“The HCRA commenced an inspection that included demands for records and responses to inquiries relating to the status and location of deposit funds,” the release states. “The company failed to comply with the HCRA inspection, resulting in an Immediate Compliance Order being issued along with the licence suspension and a Freeze Order requiring them to hold all assets and funds.”
While Highbridge Construction was primarily a home renovation business, it was licensed as a new home builder. To date, the HCRA is aware of five new home construction projects where deposits had been paid but work was not completed by the company.
“A licensed home builder is expected to be financially responsible,” said Wendy Moir, the HCRA’s Chief Executive Officer and Registrar. “We are determined to find out what happened, and especially what happened to the purchasers’ deposit funds. Highbridge Construction claims that the money is gone but will not provide the HCRA with any documentation to back up those claims.”
“These are extraordinary remedies, but we will do everything possible to protect consumers from unethical conduct by builders and vendors,” Moir says.
At least six Highbridge clients have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau Northern Capital Regions and Quebec.
“After consulting with professionals, we have determined that the best course of action is to immediately cease business operations,” the company said in an automated email reply.
“We regret to advise that the company is insolvent and is no longer able to meet its day to day cash requirements. We have been forced into this position as a result of the covid pandemic and gross theft that occurred in the last half of 2021 and the beginning of 2022.
“The theft resulted in significant losses to the company. We originally believed that we would be able to work our way out of this. Knowing that we’ve dramatically affected people’s lives is something that we are utterly devastated by and something that we will live with for the rest of our lives. The company will not be voluntarily filing an assignment in bankruptcy as we are unable to pay the professional fees to complete same.”
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported that the Ottawa Police Service’s fraud unit is leading an investigation into the company.
The email did not explain the details of the alleged theft.
In its statement, the HCRA says that, to receive and/or maintain a licence, builders and vendors must demonstrate that they have the right technical skills to build homes, the financial capacity to run a homebuilding operation and will adhere to the province’s Code of Ethics.
The HCRA, launched on Feb. 1, 2021 as Ontario’s newest regulator, is responsible for licensing the people and companies that build and sell new homes in the province.