When Caledonia, Ont.-based couple Chelsea Bradley and Aaron Hughes first met Philip Bradley (no relation), owner of the Mississauga, Ont., tiny home company Little Creek Homes, Chelsea recalled getting along with Bradley really well. “I even joked about how ‘Uncle Phil’ would be building our home because we shared the same last name,” she says.
That was in the fall of 2021. As of May 3, 2023, Bradley has been arrested by Halton police and charged with 11 counts of fraud totalling over $5,000. In total, there is more than $800,000 in deposit money missing.
Aaron and Chelsea originally became interested in purchasing a tiny home because it seemed like a more economical and intentional way of living. “We liked the idea of less is more,” says Aaron. “The cost of living has become a challenge, and tiny home communities boast about being an alternative that provides affordable living by downsizing your life, and that appealed to us.”
While tiny homes can seem like a tantalizing alternative to those looking for a lifestyle change or affordable housing amid an out-of-control housing market, they also come with substantial risk. Since tiny home builders are not regulated by the same legislation that governs traditional home construction companies, those who purchase them can’t rely on the same red tape that exists to prevent situations like the one Chelsea and Aaron found themselves in.
As the couple came to learn, what seemed like an appealing solution was, in reality, a misleading and dangerous mirage of homeownership.
Chelsea and Aaron found Bradley’s services online and were initially skeptical about the operation. “Is this too good to be true?” Chelsea remembers asking herself. After requesting images of other tiny home builds the company had completed and a tour of the warehouse where the structures were built, Bradley was able to assuage his new customer’s fears by fulfilling all their requests.
The couple began paying instalments on the tiny home build in September 2021, but when it came time to finalize permits for the house in the spring of 2022, the relationship started to break down. “From the minute we asked for the inspection report from Phil, communication started to break down significantly and our relationship with him became very strange,” says Chelsea.
From that point, communication continued to worsen, leading Aaron and Chelsea to involve their lawyer and insist on visiting the build at the Little Creek Homes warehouse, where they found their tiny home half-constructed.
The day after their early July 2022, warehouse visit, which Bradley did not show up for, their tiny home was damaged in a fire inside the warehouse that is still under investigation.
The couple spent the rest of the year in communication with Bradley trying to get their money back. After being promised a full refund by September of 2022—a date which came and went with no refund—the couple ceased communication with the tiny home builder and have since been letting the lawyers deal with the situation.
Chelsea and Aaron lost around $126,000 in payments to Little Creek Homes, and that’s without factoring in the money spent on building permits and the monthly loan payments they continue to make, despite not having a home. Their estimated total losses is around $160,000.
“We’re paying a mortgage but don’t have anywhere of our own to live,” says Chelsea.
The couple now lives in Fisherville, Ont., in Chelsea’s mother’s house, which is the property where the tiny home was originally going to be placed and where a foundation that was never built upon was laid.
“Would I ever pursue building a home with an unlicensed builder knowing what I know now? No,” says Chelsea. “Tiny homes are also not as affordable as people think because of additional expenses such as installing a septic tank, permitting fees, and lot preparation.”
In the face of Ontario’s unattainable housing market, the couple is setting their sights on the East Coast in hopes of finding affordable, and legitimate, real estate options.
Detective Kevin Harvey from Halton Regional Police Services recommends that those who do seek out tiny homes do their due diligence: “Speak with past clients, obtain quotes from multiple service providers, research service providers and, take steps to understand municipal requirements for tiny homes as they vary from municipality to municipality.”