Leo Chaplin is angry after Coral Coast Homes director John Biles was given an $85,000 fine for breaching the Fair Trading Act.
Leo Chaplin is angry after Coral Coast Homes director John Biles was given an $85,000 fine for breaching the Fair Trading Act. Scottie Simmonds

'Ratbag' builder's penalty slammed

CREDITORS who were fleeced out of more than $1.5 million by the director of Coral Coast Homes and Steelsmart have slammed the $85,000 penalty handed down by a Brisbane magistrate yesterday.

Coral Cove woman Nola Binder said the fine was a “kick in the guts” for victims of builder John Biles, whose companies collapsed in June last year.

“Is that all he gets? He deserves jail — he has left people with nothing,” she said.

“There's no lesson for anyone. He will just pay that fine and laugh about it.”

Ms Binder was left waiting more than 18 months for her home to be finished, after Biles stopped work and left her in the lurch.

“We had to provide all our financial details to him to prove we had the money to build, yet he didn't have to show us his financial situation,” she said.

“It absolutely stinks that he was able to rip people off.”

Leo Chaplin said he welcomed the punishment, but the battle to finish his Kentucky Bluegrass home had left him with depression.

He signed a contract with Coral Coast Homes in October 2006, but after a nightmare building process, his house only passed its council inspection a couple of weeks ago.

“You think you're going to have a house in three months, then you get it three-and-a-half years later,” he said.

“He's just a ratbag.”

Mr Chaplin said he was owed about $11,500 in late fees, “but I know I'll never see that”.

Denis Seth was in court yesterday to see justice dealt to the man who left him with just a badly built floor, after paying more than $50,000 to Steelsmart Homes.

“It's definitely not enough,” Mr Seth said.

“He's ripped us all off.”

The NewsMail has met with more than 20 families who were left with incomplete or shoddily built homes after the companies went into liquidation, as well as dozens of tradies who were owed wages.

Brisbane Magistrates Court was told Biles had owned building companies twice previously, and both businesses also went broke.

Plumber Steve Sansom, who is still owed about $3000, said Biles had been known as a problem in the industry for years before the latest collapse.

“When I was previously a supervisor with another company, we did lots of work for him and regularly didn't get paid.

“It took us three years to get some of the money back,” he said.

“This was happening for years (before Coral Coast Homes collapsed).”

Mr Sansom said the fine was “a drop in the ocean compared to the money he took from people”.

Biles, 59, pleaded guilty yesterday to nine breaches of the Fair Trading Act for taking more than $150,000 from customers while his companies were insolvent, and deliberately misleading customers into believing that the business names he used held a Building Services Authority licence.

Magistrate Alan Taylor fined him $80,000 for the breaches, with an extra fine of $5000 for misleading consumers.

Fair trading Minister Peter Lawlor welcomed the decision, which came after an extensive investigation by the Office of Fair Trading.

“SSM Products Pty Ltd (Steelsmart Homes) is now under external administration and Coral Coast Homes is facing strike-off action,” he said.

“This serves as a warning to traders that we will vigorously pursue them if they don't play by the rules,” the minister said.

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