An Auckland family claim to have been fleeced out of more than $200,000 by a builder who is no longer in the country and has been declared bankrupt.
Another homeowner told the Herald they were owed $50,000 after paying a deposit to the same builder for a house that had not even been started.
Hillsborough residents Nazgul Zamami and her husband Mohammad Humayoon Safi had big dreams to renovate their family home of 15 years, but they have been left high and dry after paying a builder for work deemed unsafe by the Auckland Council.
The builder, Shane Singh, told the Herald he didn't flee and wanted to finish the work, but was deported by Immigration New Zealand for overstaying. He had also been made bankrupt so could not access his funds.
But his reasons are of little comfort to those remaining in Auckland.
"We just don't know what to do," said Zamami, who shares the home with her husband, their three children and her cousin.
"We have been in this house for 15 years, we saved so hard for this work - this was our dream."
The unfinished renovation and extension work could be seen the moment the Herald stepped on to the property. The extended lounge area on the second floor visibly sloped and cracks could be seen in the weatherboards.
Zamami was doing her best to keep her spirits up, but said it had been an "awful" 18 months, far from what she imagined the day a building contractor knocked on her door in January last year.
That initial contractor, Shalu Singh, gave Zamami a quote of $150,000 for a range of renovations and extension work. Zamami agreed and paid him a $50,000 deposit.
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He introduced her to Shane Singh, a builder he had subcontracted.
Two days into the work, Shane Singh convinced Zamami to transfer the contract to his company New Life Construction Workz Ltd.
Zamami got a new quote of $155,000, and claims that she made a $53,000 deposit.
Shane Singh worked away over the next several months with a small team renovating the kitchen, bathrooms and outdoor area; extending the living room; and building an outdoor area above the garage.
Despite an agreement to pay a deposit and the rest on completion, Singh kept discovering new costs, and Zamami said he'd threaten to walk away if they didn't pay.
In the end Zamami claimed she had transferred $207,000 to Singh. Then, after about four months, Singh stopped coming.
Zamami said they kept in regular contact, with assurances he was busy with other jobs and would return when he could. But he never did.
On June 6 this year, Auckland Council compliance officers deemed all of the work not compliant and issued a dangerous building notice.
Singh agreed to come and fix the work but never showed up, Zamami claimed.
She called him again on June 18 but had no answer, and then on June 20 she found his phone line was disconnected.
Zamami complained to police but was told it was a civil matter between her and the builder, as did her insurance company.
Zamami got hold of Singh's business partner, who told her Singh had been deported to Fiji, where he had a wife and two children.
Then Zamami had a call from another woman, Pawanjit Kaur, saying she too was unhappy over her dealings with Singh.
Kaur told the Herald she and her husband had paid Singh $50,000 start-up costs on a $450,000 contract for a new investment home to be built in Pukekohe.
"We knew him for a month before signing, he seemed like a really nice guy and seemed to have good references."
But the day after making the deposit on June 17, she claimed she couldn't get hold of him.
She was told Singh had gone home for a funeral and would return in a week. But he never did.
Kaur's husband even flew to Fiji last week to try to track Singh down and lay a complaint with Fiji police.
"He found out where Singh lived, but the police there said it was a matter for New Zealand police and not to contact him."
Both Zamami and Kaur have now filed complaints with New Zealand police.
Speaking to the Herald from Fiji, Singh said he was deported without notice on June 20, which was why he could not finish the work. He was also made bankrupt on June 20 in the High Court at Auckland.
Immigration NZ confirmed to the Herald Singh had been deported from the country on June 20.
Delays on Zamami's property were due to consenting issues, Singh said. He had also made plans to build Kaur's house, even ordering supplies.
"I was going to do the work required [on Zamami's property] with no extra charges. Everything was planned [for Kaur's house].
"I did not run away. I did not know I was going to be deported to Fiji.
"If they give me a chance, I will come back and finish the work."
He also disputed the sums of money paid.
The original contractor, Shalu Singh, told the Herald he did not know Singh before hiring him.
"I only knew him as a builder. I got the contract, and then hired him. They transferred the contract to him, so it is their responsibility."
Of the work Shane Singh was meant to complete for Zamami, just four wardrobes, the kitchen and two bathrooms were finished, but all to very poor standard, she said.
The front of the house and living room floor were on a slope, the roof was leaking, and the garage and area under the house had been modified but deemed unsafe.
"It is really cold and damp, and leaks now," Zamami said.
"Some mornings I just don't want to get out of bed and have to walk through the living room, and be reminded of what we have lost.
"I just wish we could have back the beautiful home we had."
Police said they were looking into a complaint received on July 1.
Auckland Council's manager of compliance investigations Kerri Fergusson said a dangerous building notice was issued because of "serious safety concerns at the address".
"The building work was found to lack necessary structural support, posing real danger to people at the property.
"The building works did not comply with the building code [as required], no building plans were produced and no building consent for the renovation was granted by council."
The notice restricted access to the building other than for remedial works to be completed.
Master Builders chief executive David Kelly told the Herald due diligence was the most important thing a homeowner can do before employing a builder.
"I think the danger is too many people go into it without doing their due diligence on whoever's doing the work for them."
Kelly said if the builder is part of an organisation, like the Registered Master Builders Association, there is a bit of protection in case something goes wrong.
"From our point of view we'll do what we can ... we can't fix everything but we have fairly stringent rules about who we will let join us," he said.
"At least you've got that organisation [to] go back to and to say, 'hey look, can you help me? I've had this person, they've left me in the lurch, is there anything you can do to help?'"
Suggestions David Kelly had for simple checks people can make
• Check you have a clear vision of what you're wanting from the builder.
• Check how long they have been in business.
• Do they have references they can give to you to check the quality and performance of their work?
• Do they belong to a reputable membership organisation? If not, ask them why not.