Great Western Building Systems Steels Itself: Lawsuit Alleges It Takes Money, Doesn't Deliver (2023)

Kristian Sievert lives in Reno, Nevada, but when it came time to build a 4,000-square-foot workshop on his property, he decided to work with Great Western Building Systems, located in Aurora.

In the year and a half since he made the decision to sign a contract with the company, which delivers pre-engineered steel building systems to clients — almost like IKEA kits for entire buildings — Sievert realized that Great Western Building Systems wasn’t up to the job...and worse, that the company planned to keep his $40,000 deposit.

According to a lawsuit filed in Arapahoe County District Court, GWB promises a quick turnaround for consumers on its website even if replacements or increased production capacity are needed on short notice. Instead, Sievert found that the company couldn’t even produce more than rough, unprofessional drawings of an idea for his workshop within a year.

“Dr. Sievert did extensive research in choosing GWB over GWB’s competitors, and as part of that process, he relied on GWB’s representations on its website,” the lawsuit says. “He particularly relied on GWB’s statements that it could complete this process quickly if necessary.”

Sievert paid GWB $21,000 in July 2021 and another $19,158 in September 2021, for a total deposit of $40,158. By the time Sievert had filed his original lawsuit in December 2022, the company had made very little progress in holding up its end of the contract. Despite that, the deposit is non-refundable, according to the company's contract.

The complaint notes that while the GWB contract doesn’t specify exactly when the product would be delivered, Colorado law states that the parties involved must perform within a reasonable time. It goes on to say that in this case, the wait time has been longer than reasonable; therefore, GWB has breached its contract with Sievert and should be required to give his deposit back.

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Sievert’s attorney, Alan Schindler, partner with Denver-based law firm Greenspoon Marder LLC, says the need for clients to work with an additional builder once the GWB product is delivered makes the delays even worse.

“You line up a builder, a general contractor and an architect to be ready to put this thing together,” Schindler says. “These days, it's really hard to get reserved time with a builder and an architect. So you reserve a time, and then they say, ‘Nope, it's going to be six months later,’ and then you lose your architect. You lose your builder.”

After more than a year of delays, Sievert tried to terminate his contract with GWB on August 3, 2022, and didn’t get a response until he requested his deposit back on August 9, when the company promised to look into the situation.

As there’s still been no progress since then, Sievert sued in December and filed an amended complaint on January 30, after GWB filed a counterclaim against Sievert for breaching his contract by not approving drawings from the company.

Although Sievert received some very rough sketches early on, they were unusable and were never followed up by anything official for his approval. “We never got drawings to approve, so they're just sort of making things up,” Schindler says.

As part of the amended complaint, Schindler added another factor to the lawsuit: Violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act for false advertising that has roped in many customers before leaving them out to dry. Schindler included an exhibit with the amended complaint of over eighty pages of complaints with the Better Business Bureau and negative Yelp and Google reviews describing the same problems Sievert experienced.

One person said they entered their contract in 2019 and still had nothing in 2022.

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“We have been passed off to four different personnel along the way, and are now facing the potential loss of tremendous financial loss due to yet another broken promise,” the customer shared.

Another person wrote, “This company was great to work with until they had my money. Beware.”

The amended legal complaint accuses GWB of bait-and-switch advertising.

“GWB also knows its advertisements are false as it has received dozens of complaints from customers relating to untimely delivery and poor communication, but still continues to make the false advertisements anyway,” it says.

Nicole Hertzberg, GWB’s general manager, says the company has faced global supply-chain challenges and taken steps to overcome them, including opening a manufacturing facility in Grand Junction when its existing suppliers couldn’t provide materials quickly enough, and hiring additional staff to communicate with customers.

“When we contract with a customer for a building, we spend significant resources managing their projects through the design, engineering and detailing work necessary to ensure the building meets their needs and requirements,” Hertzberg explains. “That is the reason engineering and drawings payments are non-refundable.”

She adds that once customers have signed off at certain checkpoints, GWB tries to expedite the process if that customer communicates an urgent need.

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“We greatly appreciate the kindness and understanding our customers have given us while we navigate unusually volatile market conditions, and strive to assist them whenever possible when they communicate urgency,” Hertzberg says.

Schindler, however, doesn’t think most people are understanding of GWB’s delays; rather, they’re stuck having paid deposits that they don’t want to leave behind if they move on from the company.

“They have no interest in changing — zero,” Schindler says. “Because they're cheaper than some of the competitors, that's why people go to them. That's been a problem. Yes, they are cheaper, but they don't actually deliver a product.”

However, he says, most people have deposits small enough that it isn’t worth taking legal action against GWB, because while $10,000 or $12,000 is a significant amount of money, they would have to spend more than that on legal costs to recuperate that amount.

“The worst thing you could do as a lawyer is say, ‘Oh, yeah, you've got a great case. Let's do it,’” Schindler says. “Then you go ahead and you spend $30,000 or $40,000 with the lawsuit, and then your client is like, ‘Why did I just spend $40,000 to make $12,000 back?’”

Schindler notes that even the $40,000 in Sievert’s case is a gray area when it comes to whether the cost of a lawsuit will end with the plaintiff making back more than they spent.

“I just happen to have a client who, he's personally well funded and he's pretty angry, and he's willing to put the money in to fight this,” Schindler says. “It's rare.”

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Once GWB responds to the amended complaint, likely by refiling its counterclaim, the case will go to discovery. During discovery, Schindler hopes to find some of the people with smaller deposit amounts and add them as plaintiffs.

There are likely too few people for a class-action lawsuit, but others can still join the case, and Sievert will pay, providing people who might not otherwise have had an option for recourse with a path forward.

Schindler’s goal is to end up with five or six plaintiffs, including at least one local to Colorado.

“My guess is the company does a pretty good job of quieting people down,” he says. “At least they tried it with us. They tried saying, 'We'll get you a building, and in two months, if you sign this type of thing,' and we said, 'Screw you.' A lot of people probably go for it because they're handcuffed by this supposedly non-refundable deposit."

Though the court wouldn’t require GWB to change its contracts to make deposits refundable, it could impose damages to the extent that the company would need to make changes, Schindler says. At the very least, a record of illegal activity could help people know what they’re getting into when they sign those allegedly deceptive documents.

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