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Calgary senior’s retirement dream, savings vanish with contractor

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A Calgary senior is warning others after the contractor she hired to build her dream business “vanished” during the months he was supposed to be on the job.

“You turn your back, he disappears very fast,” Lo told Global News about the company she hired. “He’s like Houdini!”

Christina Lo had always dreamed of opening up a “fully vegan” cafe and grocery store. So two years after saving up her retirement funds, she embarked on making that dream a reality and got ready to open Homey Food and Cafe.

She said she tried to get a few quotes from contractors and was then referred to LYS Construction Ltd. by another store owner.

“He (the contractor) give me a quote and the price was very reasonable,” she said. “And I don’t have that much money.”

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The retiree drew up a contract that she said LYS committed to completing in four weeks. But she said as time went on, so did that deadline.

“I keep calling him. I say, ‘When are you going to come by? Oh tomorrow,’” she said she was told. “Tomorrow never arrived.”

Christina Lo stands outside her cafe. Tomasia DaSilva

Lo said neither did a lot of the equipment that was ordered, despite her paying the contractor more and more money.

“He says, ‘You have to pay me first, then I buy my equipment, or else it takes at least six months for the equipment to come.’

“He quoted me $110,000,” she said. “I already paid him $83,000.”

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Lo told Global News the contractor hasn’t come by since the end of May but added other contractors have — telling her only about 20 per cent of the work she paid for has been done.

She also said one of them told her the work was not done properly, but they could not fix the problem.

“He says because all the wiring is all wrong. It’s going to catch fire,” she said she was advised about her large freezer.

Lo said since she is still missing several key pieces of equipment, including her stove, she hasn’t been able to open up the cafe component of her business. That has left about $50,000 worth of food unused.

“All my money is now tied in here,” she said pointing to her stacked, large walk-in cooler.

The only money Lo has coming in is from her grocery business, but even that is slow with about three customers a day. But she added she has so much invested in the business now that it would be tough to get out. She told Global News she feels like a “total failure.”

“I have no way out,” she said tearfully.

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Global News reached out to the City of Calgary with Lo’s story. A spokesperson told us LYS Construction Ltd. does not have any complaints against it.

We were also told “they (LYS) do have a valid business licence with the City of Calgary as Contractor (no provincial licence required). Which means they advised us on application that they would not accept progress payments or down payments.”

“Oh yes, a lot of money up front,” Lo countered. “Everything was upfront.”

She said she also had to battle to get a building permit filed, adding she gave the contractor $3,000 to file it, only to find out it hadn’t been filed until June.

Christina Lo in front of unused equipment. Tomasia DaSilva

Steps to take before hiring a contractor

The City of Calgary has received 199 complaints so far in 2022 regarding contractors. Complaints can include unlicensed businesses, accepting payments/down payments, not pulling permits and home occupation complaints.

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It advises people to check to see if a contractor has a valid city licence as well as:

  • Ask for detailed estimates from many contractors
  • Ask for references
  • Ask the chosen contractor to provide a written contract that includes all project work and business details
  • Verify the contractor has liability insurance
  • After the work is complete, check that there are no builder’s liens on your land title

Consumers can also check with Service Alberta for complaints and to file a complaint. A spokesperson told Global News it has received 128 complaints about contractors in Alberta and opened 78 investigations between January and July of this year.

LYS Construction Ltd. has a profile on the Better Business Bureau which shows it is not accredited. Global News also phoned the number on the BBB but it was not the correct number for the business.

Lo, who is devastated by this turn of events, is hoping to fundraise enough money to make her dream a reality and finally open her cafe.

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