Canadian homebuilder charged with misrepresentation, contracting without a license after seeking California wildfire clients

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Carrie Pendergast surveys her property in Fort McMurray, Alta., in the aftermath of the wildfire that devastated the community in May 2016. (Bill Pendergast, posted by CBC)

A Canadian homebuilder who angered clients in Fort McMurray, Alberta, after a major 2016 wildfire caused construction delays amidst serious dislocations, has been charged for his dealings with fire victims in California, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reports.

In a published report, the broadcaster says Kunal Nagpal was charged in October with a series of felonies and misdemeanours that include misrepresentation and contracting without a licence, stemming from a year-long investigation by officials in Sonoma County. If found guilty, he could face fines of up to $25,000 and three years in jail.

News of the charges was welcomed by some of Nagpal’s former clients in the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray. The massive and fast-moving wildfire in May 2016 devastated the community and reduced 2,400 buildings to ash, leaving thousands homeless and on the hunt for contractors to rebuild, CBC reported.

“One word: ecstatic,” the broadcaster quoted Carrie Pendergast as saying. The 57-year-old heavy equipment operator who hired Nagpal to rebuild her home in early 2017.

“Or flabbergasted,” her husband, Bill, said. “I guess because now that sort of meant that there was more people that fell victim to him.”

The Pendergasts fired Nagpal, in part, because two months after their agreed December 2017 move-in date, the bank assessed that the build was only 46 per cent complete. They hired a different company to finish their home and are still tied up in civil litigation with Nagpal and have racked up more than $25,000 in legal fees.

“We will likely never see a red cent anyway. But our point is … we don’t want to pay him something he doesn’t deserve,” Carrie said.

“So, we’re at a loss, you know. Here we sit, we still can’t sell our house, we can’t move, we can’t do much other than incur more legal fees.”

At the same time, the charges in California mean that “somebody actually finally caught up with this guy and maybe now something will get done,” Bill Pendergast told the broadcaster.

CBC says Nagpal expanded his business interests to the U.S. after the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa. The wildfire destroyed more than 5,000 structures and killed 22 people before it was contained.

Nagpa introduced himself at a community meeting as a “fire survivor” and a “rebuild specialist, natural disaster homebuilder.”

After receiving complaints from his Emerge Rebuild clients about steep bills for architecture plans, state regulators began investigating Nagpal, and the trail led them to Fort McMurray. The Pendergasts received a call in February from an investigator with the district attorney’s office, the broadcaster reported.

California court records show Nagpal was advertising as one-stop shopping for fire victims, and that his company would handle all the details around rebuilding, including architecture and arranging insurance payouts.

However, California has strict licensing rules governing the construction and architecture professions and what services a business can advertise, and state investigators found that Emerge Rebuild was neither a licensed contractor nor architect, CBC reported.

Nagpal has been charged with three felony counts of contracting without a licence, two misdemeanor counts of advertising without a contractor’s licence, and three misdemeanor counts of misrepresentation in the procurement of a contract for a home improvement.

In an email to CBC News, Nagpal said the charges were based on “technical issues” around licensing in the state.

“Unfortunately, those kinds of issues trigger more than just administrative fines during a declared state of emergency. We continue to hold a contractor licence in good standing in the state of California,” he said.

Nagpal said he will fully co-operate with the district attorney and that his intention was always to help people.

“Our clients in California have seen that, and as our case progresses, we are confident the DA will be able to see it, too,” he said.

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