(Photo courtesy of © CanStockPhoto.com/lmphot)(Photo courtesy of © CanStockPhoto.com/lmphot)

Cabinetry business faces multiple investigations as complaints mount

A London-based cabinetry business accused of taking thousands of dollars from several customers and then leaving them in the lurch is now being investigated by police and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Western Ontario.

The investigations were launched after several residents in Chatham-Kent and the London area who wanted to spruce up their homes filed complaints about Allen's Custom Built-Ins. They all claim to have paid deposits to the company before being left in the dark with no updates and no product to show for it. The customers are also claiming that their attempts to get in touch with the business owner have all gone unanswered.

Jennifer Chapple, a Chatham resident, said she received a quote from Allen's Custom Built-Ins for a project in her home back in December 2018.

"[They] indicated that if we paid our 50 per cent deposit within two or three days from the time they provided the quote, they would give us 25 per cent off," said Chapple. "So that encouraged us to make a quick decision. We paid the 50 per cent down on December 21, 2018, and the project was to be installed in our home in early May 2019."

Now in mid-August, Chapple said she is still waiting. Chapple said she has gone through several avenues to alert others about the situation -- including the authorities -- and has also sought help from a civil lawyer. She said a demand letter has been sent to Derek Allen, the owner of Allen's Custom Built-Ins, seeking a refund of her $2,200 deposit since services have yet to be provided.

"It's been devastating... I spent a lot of time away from my kids to earn that much money," she said. "So to us, it's more than just the money, it's the time that it takes to earn that money."

Chapple said complaints have been filed with the Chatham-Kent Police Service (CKPS) and the London Police Service (LPS). CKPS officials have confirmed that it is something they are looking into, however, further details cannot be provided as officers investigate the allegations.

Blackburn News has spoken with eight people who have outlined similar experiences with this business within the past year -- six of whom agreed to go on the record.

"We understand that [the company] is collecting additional quotes and therefore deposits, so we're quite concerned that he continues to go all over southwestern Ontario, victimizing people," said Chapple.

The Better Business Bureau has confirmed that Allen's Custom Built-Ins is "presently going through a file review due to a recent increase in the volume of complaints." According to the BBB, four complaints lodged against the company have been closed in the last 36 months. In addition, six complaints regarding delivery issues have been opened and have been pending since August 8.

JP Tolsma, another Chatham resident, said he and his wife are in contact with the BBB as they too have concerns with Allen's Custom Built-Ins. Tolsma said they had first contacted the cabinetry business in December of 2018 and paid a deposit of just over $3,600.

"They have had little communication with us through the process. At first, they estimated a time of March or April [of 2019] and when that came and went, then they pushed it to early to mid-July and now that has come and gone," said Tolsma. "When they were contacting us, it would take a week or more for them to get back to us but for about a month now there has been zero communication."

The couple is considering legal action if necessary with Tolsma saying "it's crazy" that the company would continue to accept jobs and take money when there appears to be such a back-log on orders.

Another customer who was given an estimated timeline for project completion this spring is Ella Michalski. The Lambeth resident said she paid just over $3,200 on January 5, 2019, with work to be completed around May or June of 2019. Michalski claims that the timeline kept getting pushed with little to no correspondence from the company to keep her updated.

"Police did go out to see him, they did do a visit. Basically, what we were told was [Allen] still has a shop, it's still running [and] he's trying to complete orders," said Michalski. "He was warned [by police] that if he's out taking quotes, that would be fraud because he can't complete what he has at this point."

The apparent lack of communication from the business has others frustrated as well. Grace Gryzbouski, a retired London resident, said after being given an installation date of May 27, 2019, that had later been pushed back, she has had trouble getting in touch with Allen or his wife/business partner. Gryzbouski paid a deposit to the company of $3,891 in early January.

"It angers me to think that he thinks he can just take our money and not consult with us, not talk to us, not respond, not even accept a registered letter," she said.

Gryzbouski said she has filed a report with LPS and the BBB. She mentioned that her fear is that Allen will declare bankruptcy and everyone who paid a deposit will essentially lose out on thousands of dollars.

"It's just disgusting what he's getting away with," she said. "Why should he be allowed to get away with that? It's just not fair, it's not the way a business should be run. I wouldn't even be so angry if he actually communicated with his clients."

The last Facebook post on Allen's Custom Built-Ins provided some insight on some staffing issues the business is facing.

"Due to being short-staffed, we have chosen to have our showroom by appointment for the remainder of August," read the post, which had a posting date of August 8, 2019. "We will be working through the hiring process and hours will be re-evaluated for the fall."

The negative reviews people have shared through social media have left other customers with little hope that their projects will get done on time.

Carmynn Brekelmans, a Strathroy resident, said she had first contacted Allen's Custom Built-Ins in February 2019. She said she and her husband paid two installments in March and June for a total of over $11,600 as part of a basement remodelling project.

"[The owner] won't return any of my emails, he won't return any of my calls," said Brekelmans, adding that the last communication they had was in June 2019.

Brekelmans said she has contacted the LPS fraud department with her concerns, however, since the estimated timeline of mid to late August 2019 has yet to come, a formal complaint cannot be made.

"Police said I can't do anything until at least the end of August because they have the intent to still finish," said Brekelmans. "I've contacted Visa because I have both of my deposits paid by Visa and they said they're able to help -- again after the end of August if [the company] hasn't installed anything."

A spokesperson for the BBB declined to speak as to what constitutes fraud but said in these types of cases, people are directed to their local police service, a lawyer, or the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.

Those options are all being considered by a London resident as he too is left waiting to hear back from Allen's Custom Built-Ins. Brennon D’Souza said he put down a deposit of $2,000 in May as he and his wife were looking to redesign a room in their home into an office space. However, he said all parties had agreed to have the project completed by September 2019.

Before the deposit had been given, D'Souza said communication with Allen had been great, but afterward, it was "dead silent". Now in mid-August 2019, D'Souza said he hasn't been given an update on the project. He has been in contact with his credit card company and is currently in a waiting period to hopefully receive his deposit back.

"I'm still trying to weigh my options," said D'Souza. "I'm still beside myself because I'm very careful when it comes to any sort of commerce... I guess I'm still adjusting to the fact that this is really the opposite of what we thought [would happen]. I'm just doing my research right now before we take those next steps."

Blackburn News has made multiple attempts to contact the owner of Allen's Custom Built-Ins for comment, however, a response was not received prior to publication. As well, sometime between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon, the listed phone number for Allen's Custom Built-Ins was disconnected.

Read More Local Stories