'Watch out': Christchurch builder suspended for threatening clients

The builder, who has retained name suppression, has had his licence suspended until he can...
The builder, who has retained name suppression, has had his licence suspended until he can complete several training modules. Photo: File / Getty Images
A builder harassed his former clients with a flurry of threatening emails and even made an unfounded complaint to Immigration NZ after they asked him for their deposit back for work he didn’t complete.

“Getting immagration [sic] involved il find something on you watch out,” the builder texted Christchurch couple Esmail and Maryam Fathi-Loshani at nearly 11pm one night after what he said was an evening of heavy drinking.

It was the prelude to a series of texts, emails and complaints he made to the Christchurch City Council, Immigration, the Law Society and MBIE about the couple and their lawyer.

The builder appeared before the Building Practitioners Board in Christchurch last month facing charges of breaching the Licensed Building Practitioner’s code of ethics.

He’s the first person to be charged under that new code which came into effect at the end of last year.

The board has this morning released its formal decision to suspend the man’s licence and also grant him name suppression on the basis that he hired immigrant workers who might lose their jobs if their employer’s name was published and his work opportunities diminished.

At the hearing the builder admitted his conduct and told the board he had issues with drinking, mental health and his company had been under financial stress at the time.

According to the summary of facts he had been hired by the couple to build a conservatory at their home. He had visited their property several times midway through 2022 before providing them with quotes. They paid a $7000 deposit and expected the work to be completed before Christmas the same year.

However, come November the man informed them he couldn’t complete the work and they asked for their money back.

Esmail Fathi told the board that he attempted to contact the builder through phone, text and email over the course of several months attempting to get his deposit back with no success.

“I couldn’t understand why he could not pay back a $7000 debt for such a big business,” he said.

“It’s not a big amount of money for a builder with ten years’ experience.”

Then on November 29 the builder emailed Fathi saying; “I’m sending you a bill for pissing me around. I’m not paying anything until next year. Don’t call me anymore piss off. And don’t try coming to my home or I’ll f**k you up.”

From there Fathi took the matter to the Disputes Tribunal to get his deposit back and won. But their builder still wouldn’t pay up until March 2023 after Fathi hired a lawyer to file a debt enforcement order and make a complaint to the Building Practitioners Board.

The builder then paid the principal debt but refused to pay outstanding fees of roughly $300 which encompassed filing fees to the tribunal and interest on Fathi’s deposit.

After becoming aware of the complaint against him, despite having repaid the deposit, the builder sent a flurry of emails to the Christchurch City Council claiming the Loshanis had engaged another builder to carry out unconsented works on their garage, another to Immigration NZ where he alleged they might be in the country illegally, a complaint to the Law Society about the couple’s lawyer and a further complaint to MBIE.

The council investigated Fathi’s property and issued them a warning for potentially unconsented insulation in their garage. No action was taken by Immigration as the couple are New Zealand citizens and it’s unclear about what stage the Law Society complaint is currently at.

The following few mornings the builder emailed Fathi outlining what he was going to do to him day by day, in apparent retaliation for the complaint made against him.

“I was receiving heaps of emails from him. Every morning I wake up and see an email in my inbox from him,” Fathi told the board.

“Any time he was busy with his work I was okay, but any time he had some time in the evening he would email me.”

Fathi filed a complaint to police about the threats, which ceased shortly after.

By way of explanation, the builder said it had been a bad year for business and his company had been stung with an unexpected tax bill shortly after Fathi paid him a deposit and didn’t have the finances available to pay them back.

“I think the alcohol didn’t stop me … I was upset more than angry … I’m not sure what I was thinking,” he told the board at his hearing last month.

Board chair Mel Orange asked how he’d deal with a similar situation in the future.

“I’d pay it,” the builder said, before accepting that he knew his conduct was unprofessional. However, he denied that contacting Immigration was racially motivated.

“I don’t know why I said it but it was nothing to do with racism,” he said.

“I’m just so sorry…It’s out of character for me. I’ve never done this ever before. I was just highly stressed at the time.”

Ultimately the board chose to suspend the man’s building licence until he could complete several training modules that focused on time management and conflict resolution.

The builder sought permanent name suppression and said that he could likely lose contracts if his name was published and in that event his six Filipino employees who were on work visas might have to go home.

-By Jeremy Wilkinson
Open Justice multimedia journalist