MONTREAL -- It’s been hard for many people to line up contractors for home renos this year. But two Montrealers have had an even worse experience to warn about—the contractor they hired took the money and didn’t do the work, they say.

Susan Schrier hired a contractor named Peter Fleming, of Les Constructions Fleming, to renovate her kitchen and bedroom.

She paid for half the job up-front—$13,000. But he was hard to get in touch with, and after he’d come a handful of times, it became clear something was wrong.

“I started getting concerned because I saw that the work was not being done,” she says.

“He was not reachable—whenever you called him he had a voicemail that…there was no voice on it, and whenever he would call me, it was a private number.”

He would pressure her for money, Schrier said, and when she refused he simply stopped coming—leaving all his tools and equipment in her apartment.

Her planned renovation to make the house a little comfortable had the opposite effect.

“He put me in a situation where I'm in complete physical distress, financial distress,” she said. “I have to climb ladders at night to go into my bed. I haven’t had a kitchen nor running water to function with as well.”

Julien Haroche has a similar story. He hired Fleming to redo his floors, paying $7,000 up front.

“He came to work a little bit, two or three hours for two days,” he said. “The second day he asked me for money to continue…and he disappeared.”

After their experience the two decided to check on Fleming’s licence. They went to the Regie du batiment (RBQ), the body that governs the construction industry, and got bad news.

“I found out that his RBQ license and his business which he was operating under do not exist,” Schrier says.

Neither Fleming nor his company were listed at all on the RBQ site.

When CTV reached Fleming by phone, he confirmed he has no licence, but he said he does good work. He added that the licence was just “a piece of paper.”

“You don’t need a licence to work in residential,” he said. (The RBQ says all contractors must have a licence.)

“I do tons of contracts for people. It’s not about the licence… [a] licence doesn’t make you a better worker.”

When asked about the two clients’ allegations, Fleming says that in one case he didn’t finish the work because the client defaulted on her payments.

In the other, he said, COVID-19 infection control measures prevented him from going into the condo building. He says when he was allowed back in, another contractor had already been hired.

The clients have hired a lawyer. The RBQ says it’s tough to take action against him precisely because he’s not in the system.

“If this contractor doesn't have a license then it's difficult to have any recourse against him,” said RBQ spokesman Sebastien Downs.

The lesson, even in a very competitive market for renovation work, is that the first step of a potential client should always be to look up the contractor or company to check that their licence is valid, said Downs. 

Check to see not only that it exists but that it hasn’t been suspended or cancelled, and that there haven’t been any claims against the company.

The last thing to remember, they say? Go against your intuition, if needed, and make these thorough checks even if the worker comes through a personal recommendation—which Fleming did, in these cases.