Do you know where Harley Ngataua is?
The convicted criminal is wanted by police - and the customers of his tiny house business. Ngataua, who once lived in Christchurch but is believed to now be in the North Island, used to run a company called Tiny Houses NZ. It was the company contracted by Liza and Shanon Casson, who decided a tiny house was the way to go for their first foray into the property world.
“We were looking at downsizing, getting rid of all the clutter,” said Shanon.
“[It] sounded like a great adventure for us. It was exciting.”
After seeing one of his show homes, the young couple sunk $40,000 of life savings and a loan into a home with Harley. They were assured work had started, but months went by and the promises of progress turned out to be hollow.
“He kept stringing us along through emails,” said Liza.
“We got closer and closer to the time that it’s meant to be due and we hadn’t been asked for any other deposits towards it and we were like, well if it’s nearly finished surely we should have paid more – but nothing.”
The Cassons had been told ITM in Picton was building the tiny house, so after a while the pair decided to go direct and find out what was going on. That’s when they discovered there was no tiny house – there never had been – and there was no sign of Harley, or their money, either.
“We panicked,” said Liza.
ITM Picton’s Mark Lucas says the company was devastated to hear from the Cassons – because it wasn’t the first time Harley had pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes.
“Well he’s a conman, isn’t he? He’s a low-life, let’s be honest.”
Mark Lucas says ITM did a few small jobs for Harley in 2017, but stopped when he couldn’t pay his bills. Since then, he’s told at least two families the company is building tiny homes shells on his behalf – but he hasn’t been paying ITM to build them.
“It’s bad for us, obviously,” says Mark.
“ITM’s got a great name around the country and we want to be completely disassociated with the guy.”
They don’t want anything to do with Harley – but others do.
The police are investigating Harley’s dealings with the Cassons, and want to hear from anyone who might know where he is.
Liza and Shanon are determined not to let the experience destroy their hope of one day owning their own home.
“It absolutely has put is in a hole and we will find it hard to get out of,” said Shanon.
“But we will get out of it.”