A chimney repair company that state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has accused of scamming seniors in South Queens and Brooklyn for unneccessary and bogus home repairs was ordered by a judge last week to stop all business practices.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Bert Bunyan signed a consent order on Feb. 15 barring Brooklyn Union Maintenance and two related companies, KeySpan Maintenance and KeySpan Heating, from operating a home improvement contracting business, including conducting chimney inspections and repairs within the state until a performance bond of $100,000 is filed with the state attorney general.
According to the court order, the proceeds from the bond are to provide a fund for restitution, civil penalties and costs should consumers be defrauded or damaged by the firm in the future.
Bunyan also ordered the companies to pay the attorney general $120,000, comprising $60,000 in restitution and $60,000 in penalties and costs.
The order also stated that if the restitution owed to all affected consumers is less than $120,000, then the attorney general will retain the balance as civil penalties.
The attorney general can apply to the court for additional funds for restitution for eligible consumers who may come forward within 180 days of the order, according to the court order.
Schneiderman on Nov. 18, 2011 secured a temporary restraining order to freeze Brooklyn Union Maintenance’s assets and filed a lawsuit against the company, as well as KeySpan Maintenance and KeySpan Heating Maintenance, whom he alleged were swindling elderly residents in the borough and beyond.
“Those who prey on vulnerable consumers will be held accountable,” Schneiderman said in a prepared statement.
Attorney John Lewis Jr., representing Brooklyn Union Maintenance, declined to comment.
The attorney general alleged in the lawsuit that the companies completed unlicensed and often unnecessary services that subjected residents to further damage, like carbon monoxide leaks and poisoning.
“This scheme exposed seniors to health risks and threatened their source of heat, just as winter weather begins to set in,” Schneiderman said. “Any scam that defrauds consumers will be stopped — especially those that prey on the most vulnerable New Yorkers.”
Assistant Attorney General Lois Booker-Williams said in court papers that the attorney general began investigating the chimney cleaning firm after receiving more than 30 consumer complaints alleging that the company engaged in deceptive, fraudulent and unlawful business practices.
Booker-Williams alleged in an affidavit that Brooklyn Union Maintenance failed to provide consumers with written contracts for home improvement work costing $500 or more, failed to notify consumers of their right to cancel work and did not complete contracted services in a safe manner.
She also said the company did not complete work for which payment was received, failed to give refunds to consumers who were entitled to them, engaged in false advertising, misrepresented that they were fully licensed and insured, and didn’t obtain a license from the city Department of Consumer Affairs.
Schneiderman advised that residents shop around and get written estimates for a project, get references and check them with the city Better Business Bureau. He also suggested that residents look into the home improvement contractor’s city Department of Consumer Affairs license.
If consumers feel they have been victimized, they may contact the attorney general’s consumer helpline at (800) 771-7755.