A high-profile builder who won this year's Illawarra Business Leader of the Year Award has come under attack from several home owners who claim their houses contained defective and poor quality workmanship.
Jason Gow, managing director of Gow Constructions, which owns the Illawarra franchise of G.J. Gardner Homes, received the prestigious title in October for his business achievements and community work. He was also highly commended in the 2013 Illawarra Building and Construction Awards in recognition of his commitment to customer service.
The award has outraged some of his former clients, who struggled for years to have a series of defects in their homes, which were still under warranty, rectified.
Many of the issues are similar in nature and involve drainage, waterproofing, painting, brickwork and roof defects.
Mr Gow, who is the face of the company, owns Gow Constructions with wife Stacey, who manages the company's business accounts.
The pair are involved in many events and charities including the Great Illawarra Walk for Camp Quality and the Leukaemia Foundation. Mr Gow is also vice-president of the Illawarra Master Builders Association.
Following weeks of investigation, the Illawarra Mercury has spoken with 10 people who have had dealings with Gow Constructions.
Of the 10, two were unable to comment for legal reasons and five declined to comment for publication.
Tarrawanna man Wayne Gregory, who was unable to have access to his house for four years, was so angry over his treatment by the company he set up a Facebook site listing the property's defects and the timeline in which it had taken the company to rectify the issues.
On several occasions Mr Gregory said the builder failed to comply with Australian Standards and the Building Code of Australia.
Mr Gregory, who settled with the company earlier this month on the same day as a hearing before the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT), told the Mercury he had since signed a confidentiality clause as part of his agreement with Gow Constructions.
However on his Facebook site Mr Gregory said in May that NSW Fair Trading had issued a 39-page rectification order to Gow Constructions.
The report showed that some of the defective work was major, other items were incomplete work, while others had not been carried out in a proper and workmanlike manner.
After years of dispute, the company rectified most of the items this year, including waterproofing work that required the excavation of the ground below the slab and new waterproof coating to be installed.
"This was an enormous battle to have this defect rectified," Mr Gregory said on his Facebook site.
Mr Gow said it was standard building practice that the builder had control of the property until completion and added that Mr Gregory's inspectors and contractors had never been denied access to the house.
He also claimed that Mr Gregory's Facebook page contained a number of inaccuracies.
"As a local, family-owned business, we take a lot of pride in our work and always work closely with families to build their perfect home," Mr Gow said. "We take any customer complaint very seriously. In a small number of cases where a customer has not been satisfied, we have worked with them to find a fair outcome in accordance with our legal obligations.
"I have been working in the Illawarra community for many years and have been involved in the construction of hundreds of homes within the Illawarra region. It is unfortunate that the small number of customers identified are reportedly unsatisfied with the work of Gow Constructions Pty Ltd."
There are no current cases involving Gow Constructions or Jason Gow before NSW Fair Trading or the CTTT.
Every time Jason Gow receives a building award, Michael Sullivan has wanted to protest outside G.J. Gardner's Warilla office.
Frustrated and fed up, Mr Sullivan is an unhappy customer who is considering legal action against the company in the CTTT - the only avenue now left open to him after Mr Gow allegedly ignored NSW Fair Trading's rectification orders in relation to the roof trusses on his Yallah property.
Mr Sullivan paid Gow Constructions, of which Mr Gow is a director, to build the trusses to N3 wind specifications; instead they were built to an N2 wind speed.
Even though N2 is the correct classification for the Yallah area, Mr Sullivan said roof trusses were not installed in accordance with the building contract's specifications, which called for timber roof framing to withstand N3 winds.
Mr Gow denied the allegations, stating he had a certification from the supplier dated April 2009 confirming the frames and trusses complied with N3 standards.
He also strongly denied the issues were ignored, stating they were subject to a dispute notification and adding that all matters the company was responsible for were rectified and that the Fair Trading case was closed in November 2009.
In July 2009 NSW Fair Trading found that the roof trusses were the responsibility of Mr Gow and ordered him to obtain truss and wall frame detail for a recalculated N3 wind speed and rectify accordingly.
While Mr Gow did rectify some of the other defective and incomplete work, including the inadequate levelling of gyprock in parts of the house as highlighted by NSW Fair Trading, he is yet to address the roof truss issue.
While in 2009 a NSW Fair Trading inspector found the trusses had no defects, Mr Sullivan’s building inspector later did locate some flaws, including missing screws and the inadequate fixing of some girder brackets.
However the report showed that those defects did not make the building unsafe, but rather were critical to the longevity and performance of the building structure.
Mr Sullivan, a paraplegic from a motoring accident, paid $442,000 to Gow Constructions which owns the franchise GJ Gardner to build the purpose-built home to accommodate his wheelchair.
He first noticed there was an issue when, during high winds, some of the rooms in the home began to creak and groan.
‘‘We knew it was a windy area and so we asked for and paid for a higher wind rating roof frame,’’ Mr Sullivan said.
‘‘Jason was supposed to go away and find out what the difference was to securing the trusses to tie-down specifications but we’re still waiting for him to do that.
‘‘He constantly delays things. After he fixed the gyprock and levelled the plasterboard it took him 12 months to come back and paint over it.’’
Mr Sullivan and his family have lived in the house for more than five years and now have 18 months to take action against the company under the building’s warranty.
He contacted Mr Gow when a toilet cistern fell off the wall early last year when his wife was cleaning the top of it. The cistern smashed as it landed on the toilet bowl. It remains in a state of disrepair as Mr Sullivan waits for Mr Gow to get back to him.
‘‘When I told Jason he said it must be wear and tear and that we had been rough with it,’’ Mr Sullivan said. ‘‘My wife was just wiping down the top when it fell off. It is clear from the screws that they have used the wrong fittings.’’
Mr Sullivan said some of the other issues that remain outstanding included the waterproofing in both bathrooms.
‘‘It’s very frustrating,’’ he said. ‘‘I can only go on my own experience but I wouldn’t recommend him. People hear about all these awards but they don’t know that there are some unhappy, unsatisfied customers out there. I feel like demonstrating and protesting outside his office. It’s been so frustrating because we paid our money and he should have been inspecting and making sure his tradespeople were complying to good quality workmanship. I wish he would just come back and rectify everything.’’
Single mother Maria Pozzar has suffered so much stress and anxiety since moving into her GJ Gardiner Lake Heights home she wants to sell.
What was to be her dream house has turned into a 2-year nightmare as Jason Gow continues to ignore a long list of defects.
While a few of the defects have been fixed – including a gap on the side of her house which caused major flooding to the lower level in 2011 (five months after Ms Pozzar moved into the property) most of the issues remain outstanding.
Ms Pozzar claimed Mr Gow has constantly ignored her letters and phone calls.
‘‘Every time I hear his name now I get an anxiety attack and become depressed,’’ Ms Pozzar said. ‘‘It’s been so stressful. It’s like I’m living in a second-hand house not a brand new home. The defects are in my face everyday. I don’t want to live here any more.’’
In December 2011 she wrote in a letter to Mr Gow: ‘‘We have only been in this house for five months and I can’t believe that you have already washed your hands of taking any responsibility for which you are still under contract.’’ Ms Pozzar further informed Mr Gow that she was distressed due to his inaction.
‘‘The pantry floods, I’ve got leaks in the bathroom and there are so many faults on the ceiling it’s disgusting,’’ she said. ‘‘It just makes me cry. I’m a single mother. I struggle to pay my bills and ever since I moved into this house my health has suffered because of all the stress.’’
Other faults include broken or cracked roof tiles and damage to the guttering resulting in birds and possums accessing the roof. Tilers have been unable to tile underneath the fridge or dishwasher as the concrete floor of the kitchen is uneven. There’s also no flashing around the doors and windows. The shower door is blocked by the toilet so Ms Pozzar has to walk sideways into the shower each morning. Some of the inside walls have been given only a single coat of paint.
‘‘They have used the same paint on the walls as they did for the ceiling despite the fact that I asked for semi-gloss or sheen. I didn’t pay all that money for workmanship like that,’’ she said. ‘‘In the times that they have come out to fix something they don’t do a proper job of it.
‘‘They don’t send the right people to do it. It’s just patch-up work. There are a lot of corners cut, it’s disgusting.’’
Ms Pozzar will now lodge a complaint with NSW Fair Trading.
‘‘I was shocked when I heard Jason had won an award. People think he’s a wonderful builder. I don’t think they’re talking about the same person,’’ she said. ‘‘This house cost me $260,000 to build, but it doesn’t look like all that money was spent on it. All I can see is that I’m going to lose out in all of this. I’m still paying off a mortgage for something that I’m not happy with. I used to have a happy life, but it’s been a misery since I moved in here.’’
Mr Gow said the company always used qualified tradespeople and trusted suppliers. He said in relation to Mrs Pozzar’s tiles he had a compliance certificate from the manufacturer and installer.
He said the shower in the en suite had been chosen by Ms Pozzar. Ms Pozzar agreed that was the case, but said she had relied on the builder to inform her it was not a suitable design for the space.
Mr Gow said all items that the company were legally obliged to complete had been rectified. He said if Ms Pozzar required additional rectification works she should contact the company to resolve the issues.
‘‘If Ms Pozzar seeks to proceed to engage Fair Trading, then we will work with them to the fullest possible extent of our legal obligations to solve any issues that we are held responsible for,’’ Mr Gow said.
Building with GJ Gardiner was a long constant battle for Jennifer Idosaka and her family.
For three years she has fought to have even the minimum requirements met and the items she and her husband paid for, as outlined in their contract, provided.
Sometimes she was successful, but other times she wasn’t and now the Idosakas are left with what they say is a list of defects which need to be rectified. They are now preparing to lodge a complaint with the CTTT.
‘‘The process has been exhausting,’’ she said. ‘‘Every time I drove past here when they were building I’d see them doing something wrong. It’s been a couple of years of stress to get things fixed. The fact that it has now dragged on is annoying. I wouldn’t use them again or recommend them. I have been in fight mode for about three years.’’
While the company has sent tradespeople and staff back to the house to fix some of the defective items, they often have had to come back three or four times to do it again properly.
The floating floor, for example, had to be ripped up four times before it met with the appropriate standards, the issue caused by the chipwood floor bowing from being wet after it was left without cover for several months during construction.
‘‘I told them at the time that I was concerned about the floor getting wet, but they said not to worry, it would be all right,’’ said Mrs Idosaka. ‘‘Of course it wasn’t.’’
On another occasion she was driving past the house when she noticed the bricklayers laying the wrong coloured bricks.
‘‘I stopped the car and tried to stop them, but they just kept on going,’’ she said. ‘‘They thought the bricks were to be rendered so they also weren’t being careful in the way they laid them either. As a result the mortar looks terrible.
‘‘But when they’ve come out to repair them they’ve used a different coloured mortar so now it looks even worse.’’
Mrs Idosaka has been told that it will now cost a further $20,000 to render the bricks as the fixtures around them are now set in place.
There are also issues with some beams in the roof, gas piping, pest control of the front piers, cracked tiles in the bathroom and laundry and ponding under the house.
Windows which were left in the mud for two weeks during heavy rain were also not cleaned prior to installation, taking a full day to clean the tracks.
‘‘The windows were so dirty we couldn’t even fit the key in them,’’ she said.
The most worrying matter though is the pool of water under the house, that won’t drain away.
‘‘I’ve been told by the building inspector that there is mould growing on the ground and on some of the wooden beams,’’ Mrs Idosaka said. ‘‘It would have been much easier for all of us if they had built the house properly to begin with.’’
Mr Gow said that the Idosakas were aware that they were building a house in a natural flood zone prior to signing the contract and that no defects had been identified by the department.
But Mrs Idosaka said that being in a natural flood zone did not excuse a builder from providing sufficient drainage. She said they paid almost $3000 for fill to build up the soil level before construction, but claimed the ground level in the flood-prone area was still too low.
‘‘If Jason had told me to pay extra for drainage works before construction stated, or included that in the initial quote, I would have been happy to pay for the necessary work,’’ Ms Idosaka said.
She said NSW Fair Trading initially inspected the area and determined that no damp proof course and no ventilation had been installed. Mr Gow has since rectified those matters.
In a statement Mr Gow encouraged Mrs Idosaka to provide evidence from a qualified professional as to allegations of defect works and non compliance. He said if there was any proper basis for her allegations the company would address them.
Mrs Idosaka responded: ‘‘I have engaged professional building inspectors to determine the defects in the house. Previous inspection reports have been provided to Mr Gow, and our latest report will also be provided to him.’’
She further added: ‘‘It is interesting that he [Mr Gow] holds up his award as evidence of his good customer service. The numerous awards he wins is the main issue. We feel we were duped into using his business.’’
Primbee woman Mira Tasevski, who declined to talk to the Mercury after signing a confidentiality agreement with Gow Constructions, initially had 119 defects which were identified by the Illawarra Building Appraisal Services in the two single-storey villas GJ Gardner Homes built for her at Primbee.
The list of defects was a matter of dispute and NSW Fair Trading later issued Mr Gow rectification orders for 12 of the defects. However Mr Gow did not comply.
When Ms Tasevski refused to pay Mr Gow the final amount owed on the villas he lodged a legal claim against her in the CTTT to recover $44,680 for progress and final payments and signed variations Mrs Tasevski had asked for on the property.
In turn Mrs Tasevski filed a counter claim against Mr Gow to cover the cost of the agreed upon defects and for compensation in lost rent.
In handing down his decision last year, Geoffrey Meadows, senior member of the CTTT, ordered Gow Constructions to pay Ms Tasevski $20,153 for the defects, reducing the amount she had asked for by $15,983.
Mr Meadows accepted that some of the defects would inevitably lead to problems for the buildings in the future, in particular he noted the bridging in the damp-proof course and possible future water ingress.
He further stated that Mrs Tasevski was entitled to have her premises built according to the plans and specifications and in a workmanlike fashion.
He made a finding that practical completion of the building had never been reached and as such Mr Gow was not entitled to be paid the final payment claimed of $24,794. Instead he ordered Mrs Tasevski to pay $19,886 for a progress payment and for the signed variations she had made on the villas.
However, Mr Meadows did not order compensation in relation to lost rent and Mrs Tasevski consequently lodged an appeal against the decision. The matter was later settled by the parties outside of the tribunal.