A family caught in a bitter legal dispute with a major construction firm claim its builders sent them a Photoshopped image of the newly built home that showed an essential safety feature that was not installed.
The Barbagallo family’s home in Sydney‘s inner-west burned down three years ago after an electrical fault sparked a fire. They lost most of their possessions, but decided to rebuild on the same plot of land because they loved the area.
They enlisted Metricon, one of Australia’s largest and most recognised construction companies to do the build, but it has resulted in years of ongoing litigation, claims of deceit and ‘heinous and disgusting behaviour’ from the firm’s employees.
At the centre of the dispute is an image allegedly Photoshopped by Metricon after the family used an independent engineer to inspect the house.
The engineer noticed the house did not have enough control joints – a continuous vertical joint filled with mortar that prevents cracking if materials shrink.
After sending the report to Metricon’s construction team, the family received an image back that appeared to have a crudely-Photoshopped control joint drawn down the back of the house.
‘They treated us like criminals on our own site. We went to the Photoshopped joint, we pulled out the mastik (adhesive) and and there was no joint. They knew what they were doing,’ Salv Barbagallo told Daily Mail Australia.
‘They threatened me with a Supreme Court injuction. The lowest of tactics. This stuff frightens you, I don’t have their financial backing. You lose friends along the way, it’s sad.’
Salv Barbagallo believes this image sent by Metricon shows a Photoshopped control joint crudely drawn from the bottom left of a window in his Sydney home
Salv attended his home two weeks after they were sent the ‘Photoshopped’ picture from Metricon – finding no evidence of the control joint that was ‘crudely drawn’ at the bottom of the top right window
The picture appears to show an uneven line drawn from the bottom left corner of the window, with one of the lines seemingly crossing the wooden beams in front of it
The Barbagallos – father Salv, mother Melissa and their kids Miranda, 10, and Carla, 7 – said the house fire in May 2019 cost them the ‘majority of our things’.
‘We’re grateful we left unscathed. We absolutely loved our place but found ourselves homeless overnight,’ Salv told Daily Mail Australia.
Despite the trauma of losing their home, they enjoyed living in the neighbourhood and wanted to remain.
‘We decided to go with Metricon, Australia’s largest builder, who define themselves as the most reputable, most trusted,’ Salv said.
‘We thought we were in safe hands.’
The new project started in July 2019 – a couple of months after the fire – with Metricon promising a 32-week build with a 30-day CDC approval. Salv said these promises were used to ‘lure you in’.
During that time, he also gave up his career as a finance executive at the Commonwealth Bank to look after his wife who had fallen ill.
‘I quit work to help her out and reduce the trauma to the kids. I wanted our family home back as soon as possible,’ Salv said.
‘As soon as we signed with Metricon, everything started to unravel.’
Salv and Melissa Barbagallo (pictured) say they are owed $215,000 from Metricon for legal costs of ongoing disputes over the construction of their Sydney home
A house fire in May 2019 ripped through the family home while they were sleeping – with Salv, Melissa and their two kids managing to escape unscathed
They say the early stages of building were a combination of ‘incompetence and errors’, with the construction crew unprepared to start work when promised.
‘The construction manager was a lying person. He was the most disingenuous bloke I’ve come across,’ Salv said.
‘I brought in a structural engineer to inspect the site. Within minutes he realised there wasn’t enough control joints, and within five days of going onto the site, we worked out there were missing control joints.’
The Barbagallos say ’18 months of lies and cover-ups’ then began. After sending a report from their independent engineer to Metricon, they received what they believe was the Photoshopped control joint drawn under a rear window.
The picture appears to show an uneven line drawn from the bottom left corner of the window, with one of the pictured lines continuing over the wooden beams which are some distance from the wall.
‘Within two weeks [after receiving the report] he sent us images showing us joints, but he’d actually Photoshopped joints. Then a few days later, he’s got contractors who came in and went through the render,’ Salv said.
‘He said there were joints behind the render but they had to expose them. They cut 10mm through the render and the brick work and what they did was place in backing rod, they’d just put filler over the top to pretend joints were in there.’
The home was completely demolished and rebuilt after the fire, with the Barbagallos deciding to build their ‘dream home’ on the same plot of land
The build has been a stressful experience for the family
The family attended the site two weeks after being sent the ‘Photoshopped’ picture to find no evidence of a control joint being installed, and recorded a video showing filler being placed into a cut crack to give the impression of a joint.
‘The next day the building manager gives me a call. I’d tried to call him six weeks earlier and he refused to answer. I was requesting a change in construction team,’ Salv said.
‘Over 30 minutes he told me he was going to pull down the brickwork and put the joints required in. I’ve got the conversation recorded and transcribed. I told him make sure you call my engineer. My engineer said he had the same confirmed by the building manager to him.
‘Over the next six weeks, the building manager said he never made those promises.’
In legal documents tendered to NCAT, that have been viewed by Daily Mail Australia, the construction manager responded to claims the image had been Photoshopped by saying he had drawn the lines to show where the joints would be.
‘As the locations of the articulation joints were not clear in the photographs, to identify where the articulation joints were installed I drew black lines on the photographs to show their location,’ he said in the statement.
‘The black lines which I drew were not to attempt to depict the articulation joints themselves.’
However, the Barbagallos say that is a ‘blatant lie’ and that the images were used on four separate occasions – a report to an independent certifier, a mandatory brick checklist report, for site instructions and compliance letters, and as evidence to NCAT the joints exist.
Salv has lodged his objection to Metricon’s use of the edited picture to Fair Trading.
Images from the house show uneven patches of mortar across and between bricks, which raised the structural engineer’s concerns.
The family had a conversation with one of the bricklayers on the site, who increased their fears the mortar may be defective.
The Barbagallos applied for a report to be conducted through the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal in January, 2020 – which was accepted and found that the mortar was defective. They eventually tore down the entire wall.
A ruling from the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal says Metricon agreed to rip down the back wall as a result of defective work.
‘The nature of the defects, including numerous defects in the control joints and the fact that the Builder now accepts that “in order to bring the building works to practical completion and progress the works to handover”, the builder will “remove and reconstruct the external brick work cladding of the house,’ the ruling reads.
It dismissed an application from Metricon that the Barbagallos pay $200,000 for the final payment and that its costs were paid in the manner stated in the initial contract.
The Barbagallos, now three years without a home, have gone to Fair Trading, the NSW Building Commissioner and MPs Victor Dominello and Kevin Anderson to attempt to have the issues resolved.
Metricon told the family because they were under contract there was little they could do and would refer them to NCAT if they continued to ask questions.
The family believe Metricon is dragging along procedures because ‘the longer it goes the more it’ll cost’, which is particularly frustrating because Salv remains out of work while he attempts to be there for his family.
‘Instead of owning up, they counter sue us. Instead of laying down the weapons, they fight fire with fire. They sued us over payments, which was dismissed by the tribunal but we had to live through that process,’ he said.
‘When they worked out we knew about the photoshopped joint, they sent us a revised scope of work. We opened it and it’s pull down all the brickwork.
‘We don’t get a judgement for months – we win but it’s an each way bet rather than a definitive decision. We didn’t get a work order forcing them to engage with an independent structural engineer.
‘We said we do not trust them.’
Metricon employees working on the Barbagallos Sydney home
Metricon eventually went on to tear down the back wall because of ‘more defects and mistakes’, but the result has been water damage through the house because of Sydney’s summer of rain.
‘Even though they’ve rebuilt my house it’s all by pieces,’ Salv said.
‘Their conduct has been completely deplorable, heinous, disgusting. The tribunals have costs us close to $215,000. They do delay tactics on the day and send us to written submissions.’
Salv said he was fighting Metricon for the ‘first home buyers and migrants’ who couldn’t afford to.
‘All I want is Metricon to wake up from their slumber. It’s a dawn of the new age of accountability. I want them to remain viable because it would be catastrophic if they went under, but they have to change their ways, they can’t keep doing this,’ the father-of-two said.
The house as it stands today, still unfinished with the Barbagallos hesitant to move back in until they receive the $215,000 in legal fees they believe they are owed by Metricon
The Barbagallos and Metricon are currently engaged in a ‘Mexican stand-off’ with the family saying they won’t move back into the home until they are repaid the legal fees owed after winning the cost judgement.
The ruling saw Metricon responsible for 100 per cent of their legal fees from when the company counter-sued them, and 60 per cent of fees of the initial tribunal – amounting to just under $215,000.
‘They now want final payment, I told them they were crazy if they think they’re getting final payment while owing me $215,000,’ Salv said.
‘If I pay them I’m worried they’ll lowball me. They’ve put our families through mental torture and torment.
‘They’ve pushed the final invoices our way and say we have to pay within seven days. In our books they owe us $215,000 but they’re allowed to drag their feet on paying me that.’
Despite the years of stress and legal action, Salv said they still have strong ambitions to settle in what was supposed to be their ‘dream home’.
‘If I get in and they’re not brought to account, that’s an issue. But at the same time I don’t blame the house,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘We drew it up to be the house of our dreams. I can compartmentalise that but I want it to be on my terms, to be my trophy for all the hard work and standing up, not just for us but for countless others.’
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Metricon and Fair Work for a comment on the Barbagallo’s situation.
He has started a petition to help prevent homeowners from facing similar scenarios in the future. You can sign it here.
Metricon founder Mario Baisin (pictured) recently passed away
Metricon Homes has insisted it is trading as normal despite rumours of the company’s imminent collapse after the death of its CEO and founder.
Mario Biasin, 71, died suddenly last month, leaving behind his wife Glenda and four children, and plunging the construction firm into crisis.
It’s understood he had been suffering mental health issues in the lead up to his death – leading to widespread jitters about the company’s future.
But new chief executive Peter Langfelder dismissed speculation about the business on Thursday.
He vowed: ‘Our business has been very strong for 45 years and will continue for a long, long time to come.
‘There is no truth to the rumours… Please bear with us while we go through this grieving period.’
Metricon Homes currently has 4000 houses under construction across Australia’s east coast and has a $12 million contract to build social housing in Victoria.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed the state treasurer was meeting company officials as it faced its current ‘challenges’, he said.
‘It’ll be an exercise in listening and then working out what, if any, support … can be meaningfully provided to that business,’ said the premier.
‘But it’s really important we don’t add fuel to [the speculation] and perhaps even make the job of dealing with their challenges even harder.’
Mr Langfelder admitted Metricon, which employs about 2500 staff across Australia’s east coast and was the country’s largest home builder last year, was still reeling from the sudden death of the company’s co-founder.
‘We’ve got so many staff had been with the company for many years – 10, 15, 20 years – and they’re absolutely gutted and just distraught by it,’ he said.