More than half a dozen homeowners in the Ottawa area say they’re out thousands of dollars after a landscaping company announced it was going out of business, telling clients it was “unable to complete” projects and “unable to return” deposits.
Three of those former customers of Kanata Landscaping agreed to speak on the record with CBC News about their experiences. All allege they transferred more than $10,000 in deposits — altogether nearly $40,000 in funds — to owner Dennis Sheppard for work that was never done.
“I have spent many days … in bed unable to get out of bed, like, I’m not OK,” said Safiyyah Kalamadeen, who made multiple payments for work on her new Stittsville townhouse.
“That being said, I’m not living in any sort of fantasy where I think … I’ll ever see that money again.”
The company sent emails to customers in early spring that stated: “With the lack of incoming cash flow, due to the reduction in spending from consumers, the company can no longer operate.”
It blamed the pandemic, “a crippling winter operation,” as well as material and labour shortages for the company’s financial problems.
“We understand that this is devastating news for you,” the email read. “Unfortunately, the liabilities outweigh any assets Kanata Landscaping Inc. possesses in order to reimburse you.”
CBC made multiple attempts to speak with Sheppard for this story, including by phone, email and registered mail. He declined to comment and threatened to call 911 when a reporter visited his home in Dunrobin.
Critics say the situation reveals the vulnerability of consumers when demand for manual labour is high, leading some contractors to request exorbitant deposits.
Some customers told CBC they dropped as much as 50 per cent of the total job estimate to secure a contract with Kanata Landscaping.
The Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery, which oversees Consumer Protection Ontario, recommends paying no more than 10 per cent up front.
“If a contractor asks for a very large deposit or the price sounds too good to be true, find another company,” it wrote in a statement to CBC.
Desperate to secure a landscaper
When Kalamadeen moved into her single-storey townhouse last year, she said she had a few ideas for the front yard and backyard.
She wanted an interlocking stone pathway and a garden within a retaining wall. After contacting Kanata Landscaping, she decided on a larger project that would include a deck.
“I thought, ‘I’m so lucky. I’m so lucky to get a landscaper, a reputable landscaper, who will do this job for me,'” Kalamadeen said.
Kalamadeen said she forged ahead with a $14,000 deposit via multiple e-transfers — approximately $5,500 in the summer and the rest sent in the fall — despite the company’s high initial quote.
“It’s a little bit more than I wanted to pay, but I’ll pay it because I’m just so grateful to have a landscaper,” she said.
The work was scheduled to be completed this summer, she said.
Email arrived at end of fiscal year
Her dreams were doused when she received the email on March 31 from Kanata Landscaping, stating her deposit would not be returned.
Another customer, Sally Rogers, received an identical email that same day, the last day of the fiscal year.
“The first reaction is: this can’t be real,” said Rogers, who lives in Arnprior, Ont. She first thought it was an April Fool’s joke done in poor taste.
Rogers had sent the company $11,000 for work in her backyard meant to be completed last fall, but the project was continually pushed back.
Feeling frustrated and confused, she began reading the Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act, and learned she may have overpaid.
“It was way too much money for a deposit,” Rogers said. “Most contractors should not be charging a deposit. And if they do, it wouldn’t be more than 10 per cent.”
The third customer who spoke with CBC, BJ McMahon, said he never received a letter from Kanata Landscaping about the business closing. He only learned about his loss after he read some posts online.
McMahon said he regrets sending $12,500 to the company to rebuild his back deck. He said he believes other homeowners might be out thousands, but remain unaware of the bad news.
“There’s got to be other people out there that have not been contacted to know that their projects won’t be going forward, and they’ve lost their deposits,” he said.
All three complainants have provided CBC with copies of their estimates along with payment transactions made via e-transfers or cheques.
CBC was also in contact with six other individuals, several of whom asked not to be named for this story, who allege they also lost money to Kanata Landscaping.
No bankruptcy records
According to corporate records, Kanata Landscaping — which has a business address in the west Ottawa suburb of Stittsville — was first registered in 2006.
As of publish time, CBC could not find any bankruptcy records filed by the company or its owner, Dennis Sheppard.
There were, however, at least five liens placed against Sheppard’s Kanata Landscaping business by a car dealership, a bank and another financial services provider — suggesting Sheppard had fallen behind on debts and other obligations.
Kanata Landscaping’s website, which is no longer active, described the company as specializing in both residential and commercial work. In addition to building decks, fences and landscaping, it also provided year-round exterior property maintenance services, such as snowplowing, tree trimming and garbage removal.
The company also rented out a fleet of equipment that included excavators, power sweepers and loaders.
The business was never accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), but it maintained an A+ rating with no complaints until the first and only one emerged in 2022 about an incomplete job that dragged out for two years.
“The repair work that was paid for was in fact done two years ago,” Kanata Landscaping wrote in response to the complaint, explaining that the initial work had been completed by another party.
“We were to return as a kind gesture to rectify the project done as best we could. We have endured shortages during Covid of labourers and must attend to paying customers first unfortunately. There is no warranty on repair work as stated in our agreement.”
CBC is unable to track down the complainant in the BBB case as their identity is not revealed in its public record.
Small claims court among possible recourse
Jon Foreman, a lawyer who specializes in class-action lawsuits and consumer protection litigation, said these are difficult situations.
Homeowners with unfinished jobs could take a company to small claims court, which means you might have to pay for a lawyer, he said.
These cases are relatively straightforward, but Foreman couldn’t guess whether they’d recover any money because he didn’t know specific details of the cases.
“It’s possible that this company goes into bankruptcy or some sort of a supervised process to deal with its debts,” Foreman said. “In that situation, all of these consumers want to make sure that their claims are put forward and included in a process like that.”
They also can file complaints to Consumer Protection Ontario, Foreman said, which may spur the provincial agency to investigate.
He advises people to pay deposits as a trust, which means the money would still be considered legally theirs if things go awry.
Foreman said the “posture of the company” — whether the company intends to make good on deposits paid — is the “X factor” that determines whether residents get any money back.