By Elesha George
Homeowner, Kregg Jeremy is perhaps the first person to file a litigation against the National Housing Development and Urban Renewal Co Ltd for breach of contract, since its inception.
Jeremy’s position is that those in charge of the social housing programme breached the contractual agreement when they failed to construct his home within the stipulated time. He is also dissatisfied with what he said was “one ton of mistakes” that had to be incrementally rectified.
In 2019, the company had given an undertaking that its contractor would build a three-bedroom house on the man’s private property, within six months.
However, a national lockdown as a result of Covid-19 in March 2020 and, according to Telly Cornelius, the programmes’ Managing Director, several requests to stop work by Jeremy’s household, stalled the completion of the project.
Jeremy’s lawyer Wendel Robinson is being assisted by attorney Charlesworth Tabor to put forward the case.
Robinson, who confirmed the lawsuit, told Observer “as the matter and several other matters relating to the Jeremy chronicle of treatments meted out to him, I would wish not to comment further”.
As it relates to Jeremy’s “treatment”, the homeowner told our newsroom that he now has legal trouble, following two physical altercations with personnel from National Housing.
According to Jeremy, both cases stemmed from him voicing his dissatisfaction with how the project was coming along.
When Observer went to visit the man’s Parham home, he complained about what he described as the poor quality of the job so far.
There were visible signs of small cracks on the exterior wall, electrical outlets which had been repositioned and concrete that had been broken and re-plastered to install electrical wires and other fittings in the unfinished house.
The 44-year-old man also complained about aesthetics, the small size of his daughter’s room in proportion to the living area and a master bedroom, and claimed that materials for his home were being used to build other houses.
Observer put those claims to Cornelius who defended the quality of the work done by the almost 300 residents employed with the programme.
He said that one of the most important variables in any project is time, cost and quality, noting that affordable housing, low cost and high quality is impractical.
“We have been struggling with timely delivery because of the high quality and the low cost of what we offer … and that is something that we go through ad nauseam with them [homeowners]; we explain that fully and individuals are okay until they sign their document,” he remarked.
Meanwhile, Cornelius said he met with the bank’s engineer and Jeremy on site to assess his claims of poor-quality work.
As a result of that visit, he is rebuffing statements that the quality of the work is substandard and insisted that the size of the rooms the homeowner complained about is consistent with the size he initially requested in his drawing plan.
As for claims that materials to build his home were being used to construct other houses, Cornelius replied “the materials do not belong to him, it belongs to National Housing”, noting that the contract entered into with homeowners are fixed cost contracts.
Throughout the life of the programme, he explained that the government has had to absorb all additional costs to build the homes, including any increase in the cost of materials and labour.
For example, in 2020, he said the price of lumber and fuel increased.
International figures show that lumber prices more than doubled by September 2020, while there was a 45 per cent increase in gas.
Cornelius said costs like these are absorbed by the social programme and not by the homeowners.
Furthermore, he said, in the case of Jeremy, they fast-tracked the building of his home even before receiving payment, trying to make up for months which had been lost due to strict pandemic policies that prevented them from working.
He explained too, that each stage of construction is assessed by the homeowner who would give their bank’s engineer the go ahead to release funds for each phase of the project.
Payments are only made to National Housing after the bank sends an engineer who would send a report back to the bank about whether they are satisfied that work should continue. It is only after that report is submitted, that the bank will disperse a cheque to National Housing to start the next phase of the home.
The timeline to construct a home is also contingent upon the company receiving timely payments from the bank.
“I am satisfied we dealt with Jeremy fairly. At the end of the day, he will get his time to state his case and we’ll come out victorious,” the company’s Managing Director told Observer.
Cornelius invited Observer to tour various housing sites of National Housing along with the Project Manager for National Housing, Sean Peters, and the Administrative Assistant to the Project Manager, Aliyah Samuel, to get an idea of the work they do and how labour and cost intensive it is.
He admitted that in general there may be errors from time to time and sometimes they may get it wrong but he noted that if the company is at fault, they rectify those problems without additional financial cost to the homeowner.
The programme also has a 90-day warranty for any defects that the homeowner may identify after they begin occupying the home.
For example, Cornelius spoke about a decision to change to an imported brand of paint since the kind they used to paint older homes were losing colour quickly.
He also told Observer that they had to change the designs of the plumbing at the Paynters site because of the “excessively high-pressure rating”.
The Managing Director said these are fixes that they learnt from experience on older homes and as the programme continues to build more homes in different areas.
HOW IT WORKS
Someone who is interested in the service of National Housing are required to be pre-approved by their bank to get an idea of just how much money they can get to construct the home.
The person would then choose a house design within their pre-approved budget. National Housing then issues an assignment letter to the homeowner who brings it to the bank for final approval of the loan amount.
National Housing and the homeowner then enter into a fixed cost contract which includes a payment disbursement schedule for six phases of the project. The company also enters into a secondary contract with a sub-contractor who would begin construction on the home.
On private lands, the homeowner is required to have the property cleaned and to ensure that there is electricity and water connected to the land in preparation for construction. Otherwise, the company would have to use generators and find a way to haul water to that property.
For each phase – foundation, roofing, etcetera, the company writes to the bank informing that the phase has been completed.
The bank then deploys its own engineer to approve and verify that the work has been completed, before making another disbursement of funds to continue construction.
This process continues until the home is completed and handed over to the homeowner.