Heavy financial hangover for 37 families after property developer disappears from the radar: “We are left with a half-finished house”
Gerty Willems (32) and hHis friend Doye (39) seemed to have found the perfect building plot two years ago in Oudenburg, near Ostend. But it became the beginning of a nightmare. After their construction promoter disappeared from the radar, the couple and at least 36 other victims are left with a serious financial hangover. Gerty tells her story here: “We suddenly saw a contractor with his truck stop at the yard. He said he was coming to empty the house.”
“Can my name be mentioned? Go ahead. (sigh) I have nothing left to lose, as unfortunate as it is.” 32-year-old Gerty Willems laughs wryly as she pronounces the words. She and her boyfriend Doye Fretin (39) looked for their dream home for their family with three children two years ago. Through a building developer from Roeselare, they seemed to have found the perfect building plot in Oudenburg, near Ostend. “We agreed with him,” says Gerty. “I asked the manager: how far does the garden extend? Their answer: all the way to the end, to the conclusion. I would only understand much later that this was the start of a series of lies.”
He wanted to ask us for more money. That's unbelievable, isn't it?
They signed their construction contract in August 2021 and construction started in May 2022. But the house is still not finished, it remained a shell without windows or doors. “A month ago we were staying at a friend's house, across the street from our new building,” says Gerty. “We suddenly saw a contractor with his truck stop at the site. We spoke to him. He said he was coming to empty the house: ' As long as I don't get my money, I won't continue." We didn't know what to say. When the building developer arrived a little later, we immediately spoke to him about it. He denied that there were any problems and wanted to sit around the table with us. ”
“Because he had already called our financial advisor to find out whether we could borrow additional money. He wanted to ask us for more money. That's unbelievable, isn't it? We paid an extra 30,000 for a garage, but the building permit could not go through. So that money is gone, without a garage. In total we are at 50,000 euros that is gone. We are not alone. For example, we were told by the roofer that he also has overdue invoices from the promoter.” The family is at a loss, because it suddenly turned out that they no longer had a home. Gerty's friend sold his property to build the dream house. “Fortunately we were able to bridge that gap for another eight months. It's harrowing. Now we rent a 2 bedroom apartment with our 3 children. So we are now paying off the rent and the loan.”
But it doesn't stop there, because the family also made another discovery. The building developer presented himself as an architect, wrongly. “He even wrote out invoices as an architect. But three weeks ago we were informed that he is not an architect, that he only acts as support to the architect,” says Gerty, who filed a complaint with the Association of Architects. “We saw the real architect for the first time three weeks ago. We therefore sincerely wonder whether the home has been checked for stability and all other requirements.” Gerty has now united with 28 other parties to form a front against the construction promoter.
“We have even heard that he will file bankruptcy on Wednesday. It is incomprehensible... This is not an economic loss but pure fraud. He has taken our well-earned money.” The other victims also hear the same stories. For example, we spoke to a couple from Lichtervelde who have lost a total of 100,000 euros and have hired a lawyer: “He always came away with those nice words, we are left with a half-finished house and we no longer hear or see him. The supplier of our kitchen also sent us a registered letter for overdue payment. What seems? There too he is more than 100,000 euros in debt. I really don't think he realizes what he is doing to all those families.”
The manager did not want to respond to our calls and messages. But VTM News was able to speak to the man in front of his home, where the message is short: he denies everything. At Bouwunie they emphasize the risks if you "spend the largest budget of your life". “It is advisable to check whether the company you are doing business with has an accreditation,” says Jean-Pierre Waeytens, managing director of the Bouwunie. This can be done via the website of the FPS Economy, where a database of recognized contractors is available. “If such a company has accreditation, the Breyne law applies.” This law regulates the construction of homes in Belgium, guarantees the candidate builder or buyer extensive protection, determines who is responsible and provides financial guarantees.
“In addition, it is best not to do business with someone who has debts,” says Waeytens. “The government provides numerous control options for this - such as the website 'www.checkhoudtingsmand.be’.” According to the director, the government also plays an important role in this. “As Bouwunie, we must emphasize that the government does not provide sufficient support to consumers when they spend the largest budget of their lives. Make it clear to them what the risks are and how to prevent the dangers. The unfortunate thing about such matters is: if a building developer goes bankrupt, people usually lose their money.