Crime Scene Cleaners defends $18,000 bill for cleaning up hoarder’s house

A cleaning company charged $18,000 for three days’ work clearing and scrubbing an elderly hoarder’s house – with the bill including $800 for staff meals.

Crime Scene Cleaners insists the bill was justified because of the condition the Palmerston North house was left in after the man died, and because they had to send workers from Auckland and Wellington.

But the man’s daughter is contesting items on the bill such as $800 in “meal allowances” and $903 for seven sets of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the three cleaners who did the job.

She is speaking out after the Herald on Sunday reported that the same company billedAuckland mother Maree Tinsley $6300 for cleaning a van in which her son had committed suicide.

The daughter of the Palmerston North man, who asked to be anonymous to protect her father’s reputation, said the escalation in the bill to clean her father’s house felt like “taking advantage of the situation” at a vulnerable time.

“He’s not completely upfront – this is what you’ll pay for and this is what it will cost,” she said.

“When you are in that type of business, you need a certain amount of empathy and understanding and you need to be clear with people.”

Both Tinsley and the Palmerston North man’s daughter described unexpected conversations with Crime Scene Cleaners managing director Carl Loader. He asked Tinsley to appear in a TV programme about suicide, and he told the daughter about one of his workers trying to bring his wife to New Zealand from India.

“He says things in phone calls that he doesn’t back up, really weird phone calls,” the daughter said. “I really wasn’t mentally able to battle with someone when you’re dealing with so many other things.”

She said she hired the company to clean her father’s house after searching “hoarders cleanup” online.

“Dad really was not up to it and it needed a heavy-duty clean, more than a commercial cleaner could do,” she said.

“In his last years of life he was a hoarder. He was not cooking things, he was very reclusive, and he had gotten to the point where he couldn’t take out his rubbish.”

She sent photos to the company and accepted an emailed “estimate” that the job would cost between $13,500 and $15,000 plus GST ($15,525-$17,250 including GST).

She understood that the cleaners would have to come from out of town, and the email said the estimate “includes all technician labour, travel expenses, skip hire and rubbish disposal, protective equipment for technicians, accommodation, chemicals and disposable cleaning equipment”.

But she was shocked when she got a GST-inclusive bill for $18,637 including $7750 for labour, $1245 for accommodation, $903 for PPE and $800 for meal allowances.

“When I asked him about the extra cost of the clean, his explanation was that you asked for waterblasting,” she said.

She had initially said that waterblasting the house exterior would not be necessary, but later changed her mind and asked for it by phone. She said the company provided the cost “estimate” before she initially said waterblasting was not needed.

The bill included a $500 “callout fee” which she “didn’t know anything about”. Tinsley was charged a $250 callout fee.

On the other hand, the Palmerston North bill charged only $125 an hour for 62 hours of labour, whereas Tinsley was charged $150 an hour for 27 hours.

Loader told the Herald that his Auckland manager Sudhir Raja (Raj) Cherukuri spent six days in Palmerston North and two workers from Wellington spent two days there. He paid them “away allowances” of $80 a day for meals and other costs, and did not ask for receipts.

“They work hard. That is accepted in the estimate,” he said.

“I’m not giving her receipts. I’m not a schoolboy, I’m not going here with money wrapped up in the corner of my handkerchief, we don’t have to. The bill is itemised.”

He said seven suits of PPE were needed because of the smell and risks of infection.

“There was human excrement and urine, rodent droppings and carcases, rotten food, food boxes that were more than 10 years old,” he said.

He said Tinsley’s son had been dead for more than a week before the company started to clean the van and there was a strong smell as well as blood and body fluids.

Tinsley said the body was removed from the van the day after he died, although it was not cleaned until eight days later.

Tinsley, who said she “knows death” from working in aged care, said the van wasn’t badly soiled. Her son’s bladder had emptied but there was no blood.

Loader said the company was called in to clean up after suicides almost every week, and he felt strongly about the need to reduce New Zealand’s high suicide rate.

“We have been looking at going on TV and doing a doco-type thing,” he said.

The company was also called in by police to help clean Christchurch’s Al Noor mosque after 51 people were killed there in 2019.

“What we charged for the mosque was very realistic. It was a very big job, very emotionally taxing for all of my staff,” he said.

He said he paid his 30 staff “exceptionally well”. Cherukuri said Loader supported him to get a work visa and gave him free accommodation.

“If you spoke to my accountant you would see that we don’t make a fortune,” Loader said. “We make a decent living.”

Graeme Stephens of Auckland Steam ‘n’ Dry, which also cleans up hoarders’ houses, said the highest price he had charged to clean a large two-storey house was $10,000 plus GST, but that was in Auckland and did not include travel and accommodation costs.

Consumer NZ research manager Jessica Wilson advised people to get a firm itemised written quote, which was legally enforceable, rather than a cost “estimate”.

“If you just get an estimate, the price can go up, but you wouldn’t expect it to be 200 times the original estimate.”

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