New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Files Suit
Against Chimney Repair Company Charging That It
Misled Vulnerable Victims Into Paying Thousands
for Shoddy, Unnecessary Work
NEWARK — Attorney General Paula T. Dow and the State Division of Consumer Affairs have filed suit against a chimney cleaning and repair company accused of using high-pressure, deceptive tactics to mislead consumers – including several who were elderly or had disabilities – into paying thousands of dollars for repair services they did not need.
The company is accused of performing shoddy work that created the danger of carbon monoxide leaks into the homes. In some cases, the company allegedly failed to perform the contracted-for work at all.
Through these and other unconscionable business practices, All Care Chimney Corp, of Levittown and Bethpage, N.Y., and Michael Lyon, its president and sole owner, violated New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act, the Contractors' Registration Act, Regulations Governing Home Improvement Practices, and Regulations Governing Contractor Regulations, according to the State's eight-count civil complaint, filed in Middlesex County.
"We allege not just that these defendants performed substandard, incompetent and dangerous work, but that they pressured consumers who were elderly, disabled, and vulnerable into paying thousands of dollars for so-called ‘repairs' they did not need," Attorney General Paula T. Dow said. "With cold weather season rapidly approaching, it is imperative that we halt such unconscionable activities and protect consumers from the risk of being scammed -- or, worse, the risk of their homes becoming unsafe due to shoddy work."
Today, Judge Glenn Berman of the Chancery Division, General Equity Part in Middlesex County, granted temporary restraints against the defendants. The temporary restraints, which took effect immediately and remain in effect pending a hearing to be held on November 10, enjoin the defendants from:
The defendants also are required to identify all consumers within New Jersey whom they provided services to since January 1, 2010 and provide the contracts they had with identified consumers.
- Violating the Consumer Fraud Act, Contractors' Registration Act and related regulations;
- Advertising, offering to sale or selling Home Improvement Contractor services to consumers within New Jersey;
- Removing, selling, transferring or disposing of any assets, including but not limited to deposits and monies paid by consumers; and
- Destroying, concealing, altering, transferring, disposing or removing any records or documents related to the advertisement, offer to sell, or sale of services.
"Consumers must do their homework before hiring a contractor, and they must be extra vigilant before inviting someone to work on their chimney," Thomas R. Calcagni, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said. "The average consumer is unable to discern whether chimney repair work is truly necessary, or whether it's completed properly. Improper work can result in dangerous, even deadly, carbon monoxide leaks and fires. Before hiring a contractor, consumers should call the Division of Consumer Affairs to learn whether the business is properly registered, and whether it has been the subject of previous consumer complaints."
According to the State's complaint, All Care Chimney engaged in aggressive sales tactics in New Jersey, including unsolicited phone calls and door-to-door solicitations. Sales pitches typically offered chimney cleaning services costing $39 to $60, but were followed by alarming claims that the consumers' chimneys were in very bad condition and created an imminent danger unless the consumers paid for chimney repairs costing thousands of dollars.
On one occasion, All Care Chimney's workers allegedly showed a consumer a piece of brick, falsely claiming it came from the consumer's chimney which was said to be falling apart. On another, they showed cellphone photos of a damaged chimney, falsely claiming that the chimney depicted was the consumer's.
Based on such representations, consumers who initially expected to pay for a basic cleaning, agreed to purchase chimney parts and repairs ranging from $1,800 to $4,800.
The State's Complaint alleges that All Care Chimney's aggressive door-to-door solicitations included the following incidents:
- The door-to-door solicitation of an 89-year-old homeowner suffering from dementia. The homeowner allowed All Care Chimney's workers into his home, after which they allegedly charged him $4,300 for the installation of a new chimney liner.
- The door-to-door solicitation of a 63-year-old homeowner suffering from a developmental disability. Upon being told by All Care Chimney's workers that they were there to clean his chimney, the homeowner allowed them into his home. According to the Complaint, All Care Chimney's workers ultimately charged the homeowner $4,800 for the installation of a new chimney liner and took it upon themselves to fill out a check from the homeowner's checkbook that they then presented to the disabled man to sign.
- The door-to-door solicitation of an 84-year-old homeowner who allowed All Care Chimney's workers into her condominium, believing they were hired by her condominium association. The workers allegedly charged the elderly homeowner $1,300 for supposed repairs.
As detailed in the State's complaint, many consumers are also alleged to have experienced problems with their chimneys after All Care Chimney performed work and obtained payment.
In at least one instance, All Care Chimney's workers allegedly installed a chimney liner that was too small, creating the risk that potentially deadly carbon monoxide would seep back into the consumer's house. In at least three instances, All Care Chimney's workers allegedly failed to connect appliances correctly to the chimney liner, causing a leak of carbon monoxide and other gases into consumers' homes.
The Division of Consumer Affairs arranged for independent inspections of the homes of certain consumers who contracted with All Care Chimney. The inspection of a Princeton Township home revealed, among other problems, an exposed open pipe from which carbon monoxide could escape at the base of the chimney liner. The inspection of a Highland Park home revealed, among other things, that All Care Chimney's work resulted in the water heater not being properly connected to the chimney.
The State's Complaint further alleges that All Care Chimney violated New Jersey's consumer protection laws regarding transparency and honesty of home improvement contracts, and laws requiring permits and inspections of chimney repair projects.
Under the Contractors' Registration Act and related regulations, home improvement contracts must include very specific language as to, among other matters, the work to be performed, materials to be used, time period for the work to be completed, cancellation, and any guaranty or warranty. The law protects consumers by requiring a written contract to be prepared and signed prior to the start of any home improvement work. Despite these requirements, All Care Chimney allegedly failed to provide contracts or any other paperwork before beginning work on consumers' chimneys.
Under New Jersey law, homeowners and contractors must obtain municipal permits prior to beginning certain chimney repair work. They must also arrange for a municipal inspection after the work is completed. These requirements protect consumers who may not otherwise be able to determine whether chimney repair work is necessary, or whether it was properly completed. All Care Chimney allegedly failed to advise consumers of the permit or inspection requirements, and failed to arrange for the permits or inspections on the consumers' behalf.
The State's complaint notes that Princeton Township issued a Notice of Violation and Notice of Penalty against All Care Chimney arising from its performance of work without a permit. Due to All Care Chimney's failure to respond to the notices, penalties of $74,000 accrued.
To date, the Division of Consumer Affairs has received several complaints from New Jersey consumers about All Care Chimney and Lyon. The State is seeking restitution for affected consumers as well as civil penalties and reimbursement for the State's attorneys' fees and investigative costs. The State is also seeking heightened penalties under the Consumer Fraud Act, because some consumers allegedly victimized by the defendants' business practices were senior citizens or persons with a disability.
The State is further asking the Court to revoke All Care Chimney's registration as a home improvement contractor in New Jersey; and to appoint a receiver, at the defendants' expense, to assume control over the defendants' assets, and to sell or convey assets for the restoration of affected consumers.
In addition, prior to the filing of this action, the Division of Consumer Affairs began administrative proceedings to revoke the home improvement contractor registration of All Care Chimney. Those proceedings are pending.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website, www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov, or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
Follow the Division of Consumer Affairs on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/NJ-Division-of-Consumer-Affairs/112957465445651, and check our online calendar of upcoming Consumer Outreach events at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/outreach/.