Q: I gave John Rea, a builder you ran a story about, a deposit of $1,600 and he failed to do the concreting that was promised. I paid $60 to have the case heard in the Small Claims Tribunal but this was cancelled as they could not deliver the claim to him because they could not find him. I've been quoted $500 to hire a private investigator to find him. This seems like legalised theft. What can I do? - Patti, Auckland
A: It does seem unfair that all he has to do to avoid paying you back is change his address and stop answering the phone. The address you had for Rea is a garage he was using to store equipment. Several other people have contacted me about dealings with him, so I asked lawyer Vanassa McGoldrick what options were available to you. She said lawyers would sometimes use a private investigator if it was worth it.
"There are other options. If the tradesman had a company, you can serve on the registered office (see Companies Office website for details) but if it is just a private deal with a tradesman you will need his personal address."
She suggested that if you thought it likely he might own property, do a Land Information NZ search. But as Rea has been bankrupted twice, that seems unlikely.
The Ministry of Justice said it was an issue for the police.