Builder leaves customers with half-built 'garden rooms' and thousands of pounds out of pocket
PUBLISHED: 17:00 24 July 2019
A Hornchurch IT consultant has revealed the destruction wreaked on his home by builders who disappeared after he paid them £44,000 for a botched extension job.
Alan Street, 36, is one of several customers who allege Essex-based builders Hudson Garden Rooms left them with half-finished, poor quality projects after being paid tens of thousands of pounds.
He now has an empty timber shell in his back garden and faces the prospect of spending even more to fix the mess.
Hudson Garden Rooms, run by couple Chris and Sophie Escrader, went into liquidation last October with debts of £400,000.
A new company was set up in August 2018 called Hudson Living in Mrs Escrader's name with her as the sole owner which continued the projects of the previous firm.
But for the past few weeks customers have complained they have been unable to get hold of the company.
They also said they had not been told about Hudson Garden Rooms going into liquidation but kept paying for the projects.
Mr Street told the Recorder that he and his girlfriend first contacted Hudson Garden Rooms in 2017 after seeing their adverts on Facebook.
They agreed to press ahead with an extension in October 2018 and the final proposal was a 4.5m by 6m build, with underfloor heating, laminate floors and 2m high French doors, clad in red cedar at an extra cost of £250 per square metre.
Unknown to him, the company had gone into liquidation with debts of almost £400,000 by the time he paid a deposit in December 2018.
Mr Street said: "They said they were going to start in May 2019.
"They put the floor down, but then installed these screws which went straight through the drain. We had to have plumbers round to take them back out.
"Then in early June these emails came in saying they couldn't make it. We emailed back and forth and no-one was answering the phone, and no-one replied."
In a blanket email sent to all then-Hudson clients on June 3, co-director Sophie Escrader said works would be paused as they were "in the process of re-financing the company" and would resume on July 1. But that has not happened.
Mr Street's invoices show he was asked to keep paying his thousands into the same bank account even after Hudson Garden Rooms went bust.
He said: "They didn't even bother to get building regulations.
"To all intents and purposes it looks to me as if they have disappeared."
The current whereabouts of the Escraders is not known and no-one the Recorder spoke to had heard from them for several weeks.
The official website for Hudson Living is still live, but calls to its number are forwarded to a call answering service in Essex.
A letter sent to the address given on the website was returned by Royal Mail as the owners had 'gone away'.
Meanwhile one ex-employee, who asked not to be named, claimed he was owed £3,500 in unpaid wages.
Other households across London and Essex have told the Recorder about similar run-ins with the same firms.
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Iqbal Channa, from Lewisham paid a £5,000 deposit in July 2018, followed by another £40,000 in instalments, for eight days' work that did not get under way until April 2019.
In January Chris Escrader told him in an email the old company had liquidated because "we've separated from our original business partners".
Mr Channa's build was also abandoned, with tiles piled up against the wall and the family no longer able to access their back garden except through a side door.
He later discovered that the company had never obtained planning permission for it in the first place.
He said: "We can't actually access our back garden now. It's just depressing. Even more depressingly, there's no protection [for victims]."
In February this year a family in Norfolk complained to the Recorder's sister paper the Eastern Daily Press about their Hudson extension, which cost £43,000 and was built to such a shoddy standard it had to be torn down.
Other victims spoke to the Recorder on the condition of anonymity.
A couple on the Essex coast said they paid £49,000 for a granny annexe with an en-suite bathroom, meant for a 71-year-old family member who had lost her husband the year before.
The materials used were not as agreed and in March they learned the council had not been notified, and they now expect to pay up to £13,000 replacing the non-fireproof cladding to meet building regulations.
In the time it took for the project to get off the ground and then be abandoned in early 2019, the woman died.
Her son-in-law, 44, said: "It looked like a bona fide company making high quality products. My mother-in-law couldn't bear to go back to her own home and was going to have her own room with us, with her own kitchen and TV. That was the plan."
Another couple in the South East have separately taken out a bank loan and paid £16,000 to a structural engineer to salvage their ruined build.
Their extension, they were told, would be "fabricated off-site" in a factory but workers arrived on site in January with a pile of timber and worked for just 10 to 15 days before leaving it unfinished, they said.
One of the victims said: "It got slower and slower and slower. It was painful to get updates from them. They put the roof on but didn't weatherproof it so it kept blowing off, and rain kept coming inside, with water running down the electricals. The plywood was just screwed to the roof with no ventilation system. The whole thing looks like an amateur build."
A tangled web: What happened to the Escraders' companies?
The appointed liquidators for Hudson Garden Rooms, Wilkin Chapman Solicitors, would not comment but confirmed the process of recovering creditors' money was still "very early on".
When it filed for insolvency last October clients were emailed and told to keep paying the company in a new bank account - but were never told about the liquidation.
On other invoices the old bank details appeared but the given name of the company changed from "Hudson Garden Rooms" to "Hudson (Essex) Ltd trading as Hudson Garden Rooms)" and "Hudson Living".
Hudson (Essex) Ltd was incorporated by Chris Escrader last August and in February changed its name to CCSE Holdings. Hudson Living Limited, which is also still officially an 'active' company, was also incorporated last summer.
The Recorder has been provided with four Action Fraud complaint case numbers, of which three are still being processed, and one was closed on July 16 as investigators could not find "a line of enquiry which a law enforcement organisation in the United Kingdom could pursue".
Chris and Sophie Escrader did not respond to requests for comment.