Chicago Investigators: Chimney Cleaner Racks Up Complaints

Chicago Investigators: Chimney Cleaner Racks Up Complaints

(CBS) – It could literally be a matter of life or death, if your fireplace has not been inspected or cleaned for years.

As CBS 2’s Pam Zekman reports, if you hire the wrong company to check it out, you could be playing with fire.

CBS 2 checked out some viewer complaints about a chimney cleaning operator that constantly changes his company name, has no office, but is quick to respond to a call from people who find him online with special offers.

Before starting to use her fireplace, Patricia Klein asked a chimney cleaner if he could remove baby raccoons on top of the damper in her fireplace.

“They said they could do it,” she says.

It turns out they couldn’t.

“They were unprofessional. They don’t know what they were doing,” Klein says

She was shocked by their final solution.

“They finally started a fire in the fireplace and they killed them,” Klein said. “They burnt them … It was terrible.”

She says she could hear the baby raccoons crying and was outraged, telling the chimney cleaner, “That’s inhumane.”

The chimney sweep, Robert Riemer, charged $1,127 for the removal and other work that another company said was not done.

Now, Klein believes the bill was filled with false charges. She was able to stop payment on her check before Riemer cashed it but now worries that others may get burned.

“I think they should be stopped,” she says.

Industry experts say you should have your fireplace chimney inspected and cleaned once a year, especially in older homes.

Lindeman Chimney Co. showed CBS 2 how a camera is used to check for blockages and other problems, such as a crumbling tile liner or gaps that mean a new chimney liner must be installed.

“A chimney fire can actually get up to 2,000 degrees, and if the lining is compromised it can spread from a chimney fire to a structural fire,” Allen Leszynski said.

That’s what Sue and Dan Howard worried could happen to their West Chicago home.

“We lit the fireplace downstairs and the whole house upstairs and downstairs filled with a thick smoke,” Sue Howard recalled.

They found Robert Riemer’s company on line offering a special chimney cleaning deal for $79. In the process Riemer’s worker said he found needed repairs that included filling in gaps in the liner and replacing old chimney caps with new ones.

The total cost was $575.

“When we retried the chimneys after they were supposedly cleaned we had smoke backing up in the house once again,” said Dan Howard.

Photographs later taken by another company documented all the work was not done, including patching those gaps inside the chimney.

“It tells me we got ripped off by the first guy,” Dan Howard says.

The Better Business Bureau’s Steve Bernas says what happened to the Howards fits a pattern of unresolved complaints about Riemer’s chimney work.

“That it’s worse off after they come to their place,” Bernas says. “Some of the consumers allege bait and switch.”

Most complain they can’t get Riemer to return their calls when they try to complain about his work, Bernas says.

None of the complaints to the BBB have been resolved because efforts by the agency to reach Riemer at addresses he has given for his companies have resulted in mailings returned as undeliverable.

“We can’t find him,” Bernas said.

Now, the BBB has an “alert warning” on its website for a company Riemer called the Chimney Sweeps.

Riemer did return one phone call from Zekman. He said he knew nothing about complaints against him and defended his work, saying if there are problems he would fix them. He did not answer any questions specifically about the Kleins or the Howards.

A word of advice: Don’t hire a company soliciting door to door or offering special deals online without checking them out with the BBB and other consumer review websites.

Also, it’s a good idea to ask if a company uses a camera as part of its inspection so they can show you the problems they see inside the chimney and the repairs they have made. Chicago Investigators: Chimney Cleaner Racks Up Complaints.

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