An unregistered builder who targeted Black Saturday bushfire survivors has been fined $1500 and ordered to repay a Kinglake couple $11,000, following court action by the Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria.
Stuart Ritchie Mitchell, 51, of Frankston, pleaded guilty in Melbourne Magistrate’s Court to criminal charges of breaching:
- the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995 by entering into a major domestic building contract without being a registered builder and demanding an excessive deposit on a domestic building contract
- the Business Names Act 1962 by carrying on business under an unregistered business name (“Cohabitat”)
- the Fair Trading Act 1999 by falsely representing on a website (www.cohabitat.com.au) that the business was part of the Onion Flats Group - an American building and design company.
The couple’s Kinglake house was destroyed by bushfire in February 2009. About seven months later, Mr Mitchell circulated a brochure saying that he could design and build houses from shipping containers in a short timeframe.
In January 2010, the couple entered into a contract with Mr Mitchell and gave him an $11,000 deposit to build a house from a container on the Kinglake property.
The couple later discovered Mr Mitchell’s claims were false; they sought to terminate the contract and demanded a refund. While Mr Mitchell promised to refund the deposit, he failed to do so and the couple complained to Consumer Affairs Victoria.
The court fined Mr Mitchell $1500 without conviction, ordered him to pay $2204 court costs, and to repay the couple their $11,000 deposit by 11 February 2012.
On 24 November 2011, the court ordered final injunctions restraining Mr Mitchell from:
- entering into a major domestic building contract unless he is registered as a builder under the Building Act 1993
- advertising or otherwise holding himself out as being prepared to perform domestic building work valued at $5000 or more, unless registered
- entering into a major domestic building contract unless the contract complies with the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995
- demanding or receiving a deposit under a domestic building contract
- carrying on the business names “Cohabitat”, “Ellison Lloyd & Associates” or any other business name unless it is a registered business name and Mr Mitchell is the registered business name owner
- representing that his business is associated with or part of the Onion Flats Group or like entity.
The court also ordered Mr Mitchell to pay $4830 court costs.