Court Cases With Builders

Bulgarian Court Cases -Problems with Bulgarian Builders

I first came across the company that I would contract to build my house, through correspondence with their office manage on an internet forum. At the time I owned a plot of land in a village in central Bulgaria which had a small old house on it. I wanted to build a new, larger house on this plot and had some rough ideas as to what I wanted but was looking for ideas. By April 2006 I had made contact with one architect and builder in the Stara Zagora area but felt the price they gave me to design and build the house was far too high. I was therefore looking for alternative options. And there started my problems with Bulgarian builders.

On 22nd March 2006 the office manager recommended I visit a website showing the houses their company had built for a client. It was suggested I go to Varna to discuss my ideas at their office and they would show me houses they had already built for clients. Over the next couple of weeks we exchanged emails and revised the original plans for my house.

On 31st May 2006, myself and my partner at the time, flew to Bulgaria. We had hired a car and so drove to Varna and visited the builder’s office and met with the office manager and also someone in their office who could do 3D views of the finished house. We were give printed copies of the house plans and designs. The next day we drove from Varna to a small village near Veliko Turnovo to view houses that the company had built. We then returned to Stara Zagora where we were to meet with the company owner, who came from the city. The company owner was delayed (car troubles apparently) and so we were met by his lawyer and someone we were told would be the building manager. The following day we had another meeting and discussed ideas for the house.

On returning from Bulgaria, discussions continued via email and revised house plans were done and sent to me and on 5th July 2006 a quote for 63,500 Euros including the architect fees, for the fully finished house build. Over the next couple of weeks I put many questions to them as to what would be included in the quote and about certain finishing works. On 24th July 2006 I received a preliminary contract and annex for the house build and my lawyer at the time was also copied in on the email. There were then several emails making amendments to the contract and annex and to discuss penalty clauses for late completion of the build. By the second week in August the contract had finally been agreed and I printed off two copies of the contract and two copies of the annex and signed these and sent them to the company Bulgaria for their signature and company stamp. Apparently the signed contract was never received but I was asked to send the first instalment so work could being. Strangely I was asked to send half of this to an account in the builder’s mother’s name and half to his father. When I questioned this I was simply told that the builder’s parents lived in Stara Zagora so it was easier for the money to be sent to their bank account so they could pay the builders directly on behalf of the company and their son. Stupidly I sent the money.

At the end of August 2006 I flew out to Bulgaria again with a friend and handed another copy of the signed and stamped contract (it was in my Bulgarian company’s name) to the office manager. I was told he would get these signed by the builder and returned to me shortly.

The following day my friend and I hired a car and drove to Stara Zagora. The builder met us and I received the fully signed contracts and I requested designs and costs for a terrace out the front of my house and was told this was no problem and I would receive this shortly. I visited my plot while I was in the Stara Zagora area and saw that the old house had been demolished and work had started on clearing the space and digging the foundations.

Towards the end of my trip, around the 8th September 2006, I was informed that the architects plans were all ready for inspection and signing and so I arranged to meet with the architect and builder in my lawyer’s office. This was the first time I met with the builder’s parents, although it was never explained who they were, just that they were involved in the building of my house. I did not have much spare time as I had to drive back to Varna but I was taken through the architects plans quickly and told where to sign and stamp. I questioned the terrace that appeared on the plans as I had yet to agree to any design or size and was told that the terrace had already been built but that it would only be a small amount extra to the original quote.

On 25th September I emailed the office manager for an update on building work and details and costs for the terrace. I was told it was still not possible to tell me how much the terrace would cost but that it would not be much. I was told the foundations were now complete and so the second installment under the contract was due. Again I was asked to send this payment to the builder’s parents.

I was very busy planning my move to Bulgaria in October and towards the end of October I arrived in Varna to stay with friends for a few days. I then travelled to Stara Zagora at the beginning of November. I was expecting my new house to be nearly complete but it was actually only 4 walls with not even a completed roof. Not long after my arrival I met with the builder in my lawyers office. He proceeded to tell me he required a further 15,000 levs to complete the house as it had cost more than he had anticipated. He said the slow progress in the build had been caused by the builders he had employed but now he had engaged different builders to ensure the house was finished on time. I later found out through my lawyer, that in fact initially he had employed his father as building manager but had now sacked him and asked a friend of his to take over the role of building manager and over see the finishing of the house.

I was now living in Bulgaria full time, on my own, in another villa I had purchased and had renovated by different builders.

I refused to pay the additional 15,000 levs and stated that they should finish the house build under the contract as agreed. At this point the builder’s stopped all work on the house and I therefore consulted my lawyer to prepare a Notary Appeal in order that experts visit the house and see the build quality and to ask the builder’s to complete the house under the contract.

On 4th December a meeting was held at my house and was attended by the builders, their lawyer and my experts and the building supervisor, myself and my lawyer. During this meeting, I was taken aside by the builder and his lawyer and separated from my own lawyer, and pressure was put on me to allow them to continue the work and to pay them more money and not commence any legal action. Following this meeting my experts confirmed the build quality of the rough construction was of a satisfactory standard and I agreed to allow the company to complete the build subject to it being done for the price agreed under the original contract. The cost of terrace, however was still in dispute.

Work continued on the house but as the finishing work began it became obvious that that the builders were not competent of doing the job to a good standard. I agreed to extend the deadline for completion until the end of January, a month later than in the contract but the house was still nowhere near completed. There was still a dispute over the cost of the terrace but in January 2007 I agree to pay an additional 7000 levs to get the house completed. This matter settled I hoped the house would be shortly completed.

However, by March 2007 there were more problems with the Bulgarian builders. The wooden floor had not been laid properly and was not level so it blocked doors to the terrace from opening, the painting was of poor quality, sockets and switches were not level, the beamed ceiling in the main bedroom was a mess and there were many other problems. I therefore decided that enough was enough and terminated the contract by Notary Appeal. I had already paid for internal doors, expensive tiles and a wooden oak floor that had not been fitted. The builders were reluctant to give me back the keys to my house and phoned my lawyer several times asking that they be allowed to complete the house. But I felt the builders were not capable of finishing the project to a good standard and so I employed other builders to complete the work and sent a further Notary appeal asking for the money back that I had paid for the more expensive tiles (cheaper ones were put in the bathrooms), the wooden floor, the internal doors and for late completion of the project and the cost of having other builders finish the house to a good standard.

All Notary appeals were ignored. With hindsight, I should have just left the matter or allowed the original builders to complete the house and then sorted out any problems later. But naively I thought I had a proper contract, that they were in the wrong for taking money for items they had not fitted and that they were in breach of contract for not completing on time and not sticking to what had been agreed in the contract.

Around April/May 2007 I launched a court case against the building company in Stara Zagora. We received no defence or acknowledgement of the case but eventually they applied to move case to Varna, where the company is registered. The court date in Varna was scheduled for September 2007.

[I had moved into my home in summer 2007 after paying a lot more money to another firm to fix the problems]

In the meantime the builder’s parents through their Bulgarian company (one I had never even heard of, let alone employed to build my house) launched a case against me saying they had built my house and it has cost them around 150,000 BGN (75,000 Euros) and they had build the house without any payment because at the start I had appeared so nice and lovely but then had refused to meet them to sign a contract and I had never been in the country. But in another paragraph they would say that each time they met me I made excuses not to pay. They produced pointless evidence at court with figures of what things had cost but never once gave any invoices or receipts. Even their experts came up to me after court to say they knew it was all a farce.

At the first court hearing in Varna, their lawyer had the audacity to claim that the contract we had was not legitimate as the signature of was not valid, they denied any relationship with me, that they had received any money for the build or that they even knew me. Various evidence was submitted by both sides. A new date was scheduled for January 2008.

I requested a meeting to try and settle the matter. A further notary appeal was sent and ignored and who should turn up for the meeting but Mummy and Daddy. They continued to tell me I owed them money for my house build but they would settle for the 6000E due as the last payment under the contract, the contract that they said did not exist!!! Again with hindsight, I should have just settled as would have prevent much more agro and cost. But I stuck to my principles and the mistaken belief that a proper court trial would show they were in the wrong.

Anyway a few days later they phoned my lawyer to say they were not pursuing the case against me and hoped I would reconsider the case against their son. This was possibly because I had launched a police investigation into them for money received from me, if indeed they were saying they had not done any building work for me and there was no contract.

In January 2008 I was served with a court summons from the lawyer for the building company, from him personally against me personally. WHY? Because back in summer 2007 I had made an official complaint against him to the lawyers council here in Stara Zagora has he had phoned me several times to try and persuade me to drop the court case and telling me I was stupid to pursue it and would cost me a fortune and they would ensure it went on for years. Indeed he told my lawyer the same. I was advised by my lawyer to write an official complaint about him and did so using the proper channels. Yet, despite the system being in place so clients could legitimately complain about the actions of lawyers, I was slapped with an action against me for slander.

The court case with the builders in January was rescheduled to February and so on Valentine’s day 2007 we again travelled to Varna. The hearing was a farce. The judge rejected 20,000 levs of our appeal because of some technicality and because my case had not been well presented by my lawyer (we appealed against this decision), the judge rejected much of the evidence we wanted to submit but accepted the builder’s request for a financial look into my company and expert to check whether the signature on a separate protocol was valid, even though obvious it was not but they did not want the signature on the contract checking!

On 20th March there was the next hearing in Varna – I decided there was no point in going to sit there, not contribute, pay for translator and waste time so the lawyer just went.

Our appeal for the 20,000 levs was heard and we won that. Except they did not tell us they were going to hear that appeal and we did not know the decision and then they wanted to carry on with full case but we had not taken all our witnesses as they were only needed to prove the 20,000 levs part.

Anyway the case was part heard. The builder’s parents were witnesses and tried to say that they had an unwritten contract with me for them to build my house but when faced with all documents mentioning their son’s company but some signed by the father, he said that he had not noticed he was signing documents with another firm name and then a little while later realised this was (by complete coincidence it seems) his son’s company!!! Unbelievable.

Anyway we requested an expert to say signature on contract was that of the builder and it was a valid contract. More money for this of course!

The police prosecutor decided that it was a civil matter and while I could try and pursue the matter to ensure they were punished for not declaring money for tax reasons, quite frankly I could not be bothered with hassle.

There were then a further 2 hearings in Varna for hearing of experts. Final hearing was on July 16th 2008. I did not go. All involved, including my own experts and lawyer demanded further money before they would go and a further petrol money to drive to Varna. It all seemed pointless by this stage and I was just caught up in something I could not stop.

I understand a final conclusion/report was meant to have been sent by me summing up my side and evidence within 7 days of final hearing, however, as it was going to cost even more to have this prepared and sent I decided not to bother. I had at this point had another lawyer review my case and been told it had been very badly handled and presented by my lawyer and if done another way, I would have stood a good chance of winning.

I eventually heard that I had in fact completely lost case. All I knew at this point was that it was a ‘bad claim’ and that there was 80 levs to pay to the builders for their expert fees.

A while later I received a demand for over 5000 levs in costs from the builder. This amount was appealed and reduced to around 1,500 levs which was immediately paid. However, despite winning the appeal, the builder’s re-appealed and apparently won, as the bailiffs turned up at my door demanding over 6,500 levs for unpaid legal costs, the costs for the bailiffs and 350 levs for God knows what. To avoid additional hassle I just paid this. Overall by this point it had probably cost me around 50,000 levs in legal costs, court fees, money paid to builders for work not done and materials that never appeared, getting other builders to put right bodge jobs and complete house, bailiff fees etc…

On 24th March 2008 there was the first hearing in the criminal case against me by the company lawyer who said I damaged his reputation and his feelings when I made an official complaint against him to lawyer’s council (board for complaints against lawyers). I did not attend.

In May 2008 there was the main hearing. Again a complete farce. He had brought along 4 witnesses to say how upset he had been, how depressed he was and unable to work properly (despite actually carrying on the other other case with during this period) due to my letter of complaint and how it had effected his reputation and business. His ‘witnesses’ claimed they had to give him medication for stress. They all said how he had showed them my letter of complaint (meant to be confidential to lawyers council) and how he had told them about how I had written about my experiences on the internet. If he had not told them any of this, they would never have known about the complaint against him, yet this appeared to make no difference. He was also claiming 20,000 levs in damages.

Another court date was set for September 2008 so the Judge could check whether I have a criminal record or not. At this hearing, not much happened as the court translator did not turn up but basically the case was adjourned again so further translations could be made of the my letter to the lawyer’s council.

The final hearing was in November and I was found guilty of defamation and causing the lawyer stress, possible harm to his business etc and was ordered to pay around 6,500 levs in compensation and costs. Luckily the 20,000 levs civil claim was rejected. At this point I was ready to just pay and be done with it but my lawyer insisted we should appeal as there was no way 3 judges on the appeal case could be ‘influenced’ as one appeared to have been in this case.

The appeal was heard at the end of February 2009, although I could get no information from my lawyer. It then seemed there were two or three further hearings although for what I have no idea. I was under the impression no decision had been given by the appeal court and the matter was still ongoing. Indeed my lawyer had said as much. Yet at the beginning of June 2009 I was handed a court paper from the bailiff, stating my company shares had been frozen and I was to pay 6,500 levs for losing this appeal. Yet when I asked my lawyer about this, he was still insisting there was another hearing. Luckily a friend checked for me and confirmed the appeal had been decided against me and I needed to pay this money urgently. My lawyer dealing with the appeal then suddenly decides I have to pay as soon as possible as the other party want to repossess all my houses and will do so unless I pay up. So with interest (as I had never been told about the appeal decision and to pay up), bailiff fees, court fees, taxes and compensation, there was an additional 7,220 levs to pay.

But that was still not the end to the matter or the problems with Bulgarian builders. In the summer of 2010 I was sent yet another court summons. This time from Mummy and Daddy of builder, now demanding an additional 20,000 levs because of the difference in value of my house from when they had built it (even though I contracted and paid their son’s company) to now. It was completely ludicrous but this is Bulgaria! Experts came round to view my house and make assessments. I decided to just try and settle the matter to be able to put it all behind me, and offered 10,000 levs to the other side. It took them 2 or 3 months to finally come back with an answer, and only when we went through court to ask them to push the matter forward. They accepted the agreement and this amount was paid with a court signed agreement that this was finally, after 4 years and many thousands later, the end to the matter.