Fri | Oct 23, 2020

Homeowners’ nightmare - After two years of missed deadlines, developer promises houses for Christmas

Published:Saturday | December 7, 2019 | 12:30 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter
A crew completes work on the yard of a housing unit of The Orchards on Thursday.
A crew completes work on the yard of a housing unit of The Orchards on Thursday.

Danielle Stewart* was living and working overseas in 2017 when a friend alerted her to The Orchards, an ambitious sprawling housing development under construction on more than 131 acres of decommissioned lands in Innswood, St Catherine.

Stewart, who was house-hunting at the time, travelled to Jamaica months later to get a first-hand look at what was to be her new home.

She quickly secured a mortgage from a local financial institution to purchase a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house with a price tag of $10.75 million, which was among the 760 two-bedroom units that have been offered by Rivi Gardner & Associates, developers of The Orchards.

“I came back the Easter, I saw it and I liked it, and they told me it would be ready by the summer of 2017,” recounted Stewart, who later quit her job and returned to her homeland.

About the same time, Lenmore Bell and Emanuel Smith were also brimming with excitement as they, too, had obtained mortgages to purchase homes in The Orchards, fulfilling their dreams.

“I was just excited about getting married, moving into a new house, and having a baby,” Bell recounted.

Smith, who resides in the Cayman Islands, was so “elated and excited”, he told all his co-workers after he completed the financial arrangements. “I felt good about myself,” he said.

But more than two years later, none of them have been able to move into their new home and are livid with the developers.

Bell acknowledged that Rivi Gardner & Associates gave them early possession of the houses, but said that for a number of reasons, they have not been able to move in.

“There are no streetlights and the units are not 100 per cent completed,” he said, pointing to some of the issues.

To compound an already frustrating experience, the prospective homeowners complained that the developers have missed “numerous” deadlines to hand over the units.

This year alone, they claimed that Rivi Gardner & Associates have missed four dates when the houses, all part of phase one of the 760-unit development, would be ready for occupation.

“When I started this process, I wasn’t even pregnant with my child. So when I got pregnant, I said, ‘OK, perhaps they will complete so I can move in with my child,’” recalled Toni-Ann Rankine, who said she and her husband have been waiting since April 2016 to move into their two-bedroom home.

“That was never realised and my son was born in January 2018.”

Bell was even more blunt.

“It was kinda crazy how they were doing things. It seemed haphazard, like there wasn’t sufficient supervision of the works and the progress that they were reporting to us was just lies,” he told The Gleaner.

Stewart now fears that she will lose her mortgage because her current job pays significantly less than what she earned when she first applied.

“I have to go in and do a re-evaluation of my financial position,” she explained.

Hugh Scott, whose company, Asco Project Consultants, manages the development, acknowledged that “the purchasers have a right to complain because of numerous delays with phase one”.

“I would never even try to find an excuse or say the people don’t have a right to be angry. They do have a right to be angry,” Scott conceded.

He said that his company “made a mistake” when it hired the three contractors who were each engaged to work on the project.

“The simple fact is there were some contractors hired on the project that should not be anywhere near building houses. Where they were given seven months to complete the work, after 16 months, they were not even 20 per cent completed,” he said when contacted by The Gleaner.

Scott disclosed that in June 2018, a new contractor took over, but said that, too, was a mistake. The new contractor was terminated in December 2018, he said.

“Frankly speaking, after three months, I realised it wasn’t going to work, that it was a mistake,” he said, asserting that the work being done by the new contractor did not meet the required standard.

“When you build a house and give it to somebody, you can’t tell them that you want to come into their house and fix defects when pipes start bursting, when things not working, and they have already moved in. So I took the decision and advised Mr Gardner that we would not hand over the houses until every single one is corrected,” he said.

“It was like starting over.”

However, Scott disclosed that close to 30 purchasers have already moved into their homes and said he expects that by the end of this month, the remaining 200-plus prospective homeowners should have possession of their house.

*Name changed.