Chimney-sweep scam costs stacks of cash

Cynthia Chalmers, pictured above, held a press conference on Thursday, May 28 with Senator Klein in her home to expose a chimney cleaning scam. Photo by Patrick Rocchio

Two chimney sweeps allegedly misled a Morris Park homeowner into performing unnecessary work on her smokestack. Now an elected official is calling for stronger regulation of the industry..

Senator Jeff Klein banded together with Neill Avenue resident Cynthia Chalmers to expose sneaky practices designed to lure homeowners into doing expensive chimney repairs, including cleanings and lining repair.

The chimney-cleaning companies left flyers for Chalmers. One which enticed Chalmers with a $25 cleaning fee, told her that her gas-burning chimney needed new lining immediately, costing $2,500 – and that she would be reported to her utility company if she didn’t agree. When a second chimney company pulled a similar stunt, Chalmers contacted Klein.

“Let’s be clear – these are tough fiscal times and now more than ever I believe it is our responsibility as public servants to make sure we are doing more for our residents in every way possible,” Klein said in reference to Chalmers’ case. “Scams come in all shapes and sizes, but if something doesn’t seem on the straight and narrow, chances are it’s not.”

Klein said that he would like to see the chimney-cleaning industry better regulated, and that he is planning to push for tougher state laws to rein in the unscrupulous sweeps. Klein urged homeowners to get estimates, check references, and always hire a licensed contractor. He has even reached out to a national association in an attempt to draw light to the issue.

“Unscrupulous contractors exist in every service industry; however fear should not stop you from maintaining your chimney,” stated Melissa Heeke, director of communications for the Chimney Safety Institute of America. “Ask for references and check licenses and certifications before hiring any service professional.”

Heeke added that well-maintained chimneys prevent fires and carbon monoxide buildups, which can be deadly.

Chalmers was especially concerned because one of the contractors said he was going to her utility company if she did not immediately agree to the lining repair.

According to Chalmers, the sweeper from Morning Star Cleaners of Bay Shore, New York, said: “If you do not get it fixed, since I am a licensed contractor I will have to report you to National Grid/Con Edison; I could lose my license if I do not report you.”

Klein’s said his investigation later found that chimney sweeps have no special authority to report anyone to a utility company.

More from Around NYC