'I trusted them': Tiny homes-maker accused of scamming customers of hundreds of thousands
Published Wednesday, February 13, 2019 10:00PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 14, 2019 11:06AM EST
Garbage bags cover the bedroom windows to keep the chilly air at bay. There is siding taped to the house to prevent it from falling off on a windy day. Water damage is visible throughout the interior. There are electrical problems and the insulation is so poor that ice forms on the inside of the walls.
The entire building itself tilts to one side because it was misplaced on top of the foundation.
It was supposed to be the dream home Max Martinez had always wanted for his wife Joselyn Barrera and his three children.
Instead, he spent $135,000 on an unsafe prefabricated steel frame home or modular home, which is built offsite before delivery, that he had to spend another $145,000 repairing before his family could move in.
The prefabricated houses were touted as environmentally friendly, durable, and affordable alternatives to the standard wooden frames already on the market.
“I don’t feel safe for myself,” Martinez told CTV News from his home in Yarker, Ont. in January. “I don’t feel safe for my kids, for my family to actually be in this house, but what other option do we have? We don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Martinez is just one of dozens of customers in Canada and the U.S. who each paid tens of thousands of dollars to an Ontario-based company that promised to build them steel frame modular homes.
Now, it seems less and less likely they will ever receive the homes they were promised after Green Terra Homes filed for bankruptcy in January.
Martinez and his wife bought their 884-square-foot home in Yarker, Ont. from Green Terra Homes in March 2016. After discovering the company online, the couple met with Green Terra Homes’ Chief Operating Officer Max Broojerd.
Broojerd sold them on the idea of a brand new modular home and Martinez paid a down payment of $37,000 in cash. When the house arrived in May 2017, Martinez said he noticed two large pieces of insulation had fallen off the truck that were never replaced. He also said there was leftover lumber and pieces of siding left on the ground upon delivery.
The cabinets they received were cracked and rubbed with dirt. There appeared to be mud in the sockets of the electrical outlets and he noticed severe water damage on the walls and massive cracks in the drywall.
The couple moved into the house in December 2017. Now, more than a year later, Martinez said they’re still trying to fix the home he claims falls short of the new building he was promised.
“I trusted them and they failed at every point to come through on their words,” Martinez said.
‘You feel like you’ve been duped’
Paul Tripp is another Green Terra Homes client who is accusing the company of taking his money in a “clear-cut scam.”
In the spring of 2018, Tripp met with a representative from Green Terra Homes to purchase a tiny home on wheels that he would be able to pull behind his truck.
The 28-year-old landscaper from Trenton, Ont. spent $35,000 – his life savings – on a 160-square-foot steel home that never arrived.
Tripp was supposed to receive his modular home in September 2018, but the delivery date came and went with barely an update from Green Terra Homes.
“Come September, it’s clear that the house is not going to be ready,” he recalled to CTV News in January. “They haven’t even started production and the conversation back and forth is getting more and more sporadic.”
Tripp said he tried contacting Green Terra Homes about the status of his home for weeks without receiving a satisfactory answer. It wasn’t until November, when he posted on social media about his negative experience with the company that he finally heard from Broojerd.
Tripp said Broojerd promised to make things right and to have his home delivered or he would refund his money.
Several weeks later, Tripp said he didn’t hear from Broojerd or anyone else from Green Terra Homes. He has been staying at a friend’s home since September when he was supposed to receive his tiny home.
“I’m angry. I feel like I’ve been taken advantage of,” he said. “It’s now almost six months later and still no real resolution in sight. So it’s very disappointing. You feel like you’ve been duped. Nobody wants to feel like that.”
Green Terra Homes also had customers in the United States, including Lauri Jayne and her wife Whitney from Oregon, who also received reassurances from Broojerd that they would receive a refund for the 1,200 to 1,500-square-foot modular home they ordered in February 2018.
They paid a deposit of $16,560 to Green Terra Homes, but they asked for a refund for the deposit a few months later after their mortgage loan wouldn’t cover the cost of construction for the home.
After waiting months for a refund, Lauri said she finally received a phone call from Broojerd in October 2018, during which he told her the company was experiencing financial difficulties, but that she would get her money back.
“It’s going to take time, but nothing’s going to get lost. That’s our guarantee,” Broojerd told Lauri in the recorded phone call. “We are here. We’re not going anywhere. Green Terra Homes, Green Terra Construction, we have roots.”
Jeremi and Russell Rice from Fairfield, Calif. is another couple who was drawn to Green Terra Homes’ promises after seeing examples of their available homes advertised on eBay.
In November 2017, they placed an order for a 1,092-square-foot modular home with customizations that would allow Russell’s ailing father to come and live with them. They paid a down payment of $21,000 that was supposed to cover the costs of plans, permits, and some materials.
“At first it was good. They were responsive. It seemed pretty legitimate. Talking with one of the employees, we spent probably two hours doing a Facetime and going over all the details of what we were looking for, and it seemed pretty good,” Russell told CTV News.
However, as the months dragged on, the Rices said they received fewer and fewer updates from Green Terra Homes about the progress of their home.
After more than a year and with nothing to show for their investment but some initial drawings, Jeremi said they finally received an email in December 2018 notifying them that Green Terra Homes would be reorganized in January and order fulfillment would continue under new management. They were also given the option of filling out a request for a refund.
Like several other families who spoke to CTV News, the Rices sent a refund request to the company. They have not heard back from Green Terra Homes regarding their request and they have not been refunded.
On Jan. 11, 2019, Green Terra Homes filed for bankruptcy leaving many customers with unlivable or partially completed homes, while others received no homes at all.
The company’s 100,000-square-foot warehouse that was opened in Trenton in April 2017 has been closed. It’s now up for sale for more than $1.7 million.
In early January, CTV News received an email from what appeared to be a Green Terra Homes address suggesting communication with the appointed bankruptcy trustee in the case.
“We anticipate the company will be filed into formal bankruptcy within the next few days. The information circulating is unfounded and inaccurate. Unfortunately details cannot be shared with all at this time but will be shortly. And we cannot discuss details on our end until proceedings have been completed,” the email read.
Several attempts by CTV News to contact Green Terra Homes and Broojerd since that first email have gone unanswered.
Jeremi Rice from California said they received a notification that Green Terra Homes had filed for bankruptcy and a trustee would be in contact with them.
Shortly after, the Rices said Albert Gelman, the appointed bankruptcy trustee, emailed them about how to file a claim against the company and advising them of a trustee meeting with claimants on Jan. 30 in Toronto.
The meeting has been postponed, however, due to undisclosed security concerns.
There are more than 100 creditors listed with claims against Green Terra Homes that total more than $4.9 million.
For the Rices, they said they hope the bankruptcy case will allow them to recover some of the money they’ve lost on the modular home they never received.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll get our money back and that the owners of the company aren’t allowed to be in business anymore,” Jeremi said.
Martinez is less optimistic that he will see any of the money he spent again. Instead, he said he’s focused on repairing his modular house for his family.
“That’s what we’ve been doing... trying to fix it a little bit at a time,” he said. “It’s just hard. We’re living paycheque to paycheque. It’s not supposed to be like that.”
Visit CTVNews.ca and tune into CTV National News on Thursday, Feb. 14 for an in-depth look at Green Terra Homes and the owners at the centre of the alleged scam.
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