ABC7 I-Team Investigation
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Before homeowners dig deep for expensive plumbing repairs, city officials want them to know about one storefront in Chicago that houses "rogue plumbers."
Plumbers who face allegations of consumer fraud, violations and fines, are operating out of a building in the 700-block of West 47th Street in the Canaryville neighborhood under different company names with at least three different people running the operations. However, city officials said there are no businesses licenses registered to that address.
"I felt taken and embarrassed and depressed," said John McCartney, whose plumbing emergency cost $10,000. He paid a company called Wagner & Sons Plumbing and its associates.
When he filed a claim, McCartney's insurance company said the job should have only cost about $1,800.
The city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) investigated and determined he was a victim of home repair fraud.
"In this particular case, we have fines for three different individuals using two different business names and this same address has a pattern of bad practices," said Maria Guerra Lapacek, a BACP commissioner.
The BACP said the plumbers that McCartney hired were fined in court for not providing estimates and contracts, and not being licensed. Court records show the city has fined the businesses at that location about $167,000 dollars since 2008. No one answered the door at the address on West 47th Street.
"What these rogue companies do is change names and sometimes they don't even give you there real name, certainly not a real corporate name that's registered or licensed," said Maria Guerra Lapacek, a BACP commissioner.
Olive Dilworth hired Wagner & Sons from that same troubled address in March 2014. Living without water, she quickly paid $17,800, of which her insurance covered only $13,000.
"But the contract that was written up didn't have Wagner & Sons on it, but had Loews & Company," Dilworth said. "So, it was very strange."
Dilworth and McCartney said they were both given paperwork with the distinctive "Lowes" logo on them, but the home improvement giant had nothing to do with the repairs.
Of the 53 violations in the past five years, BACP said 13 of them are in Olivia Tkachuk's name. Tkachuk said she rents out portions of the storefront to other plumbers, never used the Lowes plumbing name and no longer runs Wagner & Sons..
When asked if she paid the fines, she responded, "I don't know."
"I'm an honest person," she said.
A Google search of Wagner & Sons also shows Tkachuck's home address as a location for the business.
Messages left at the telephone number on the website, were not returned.
Tkachuk said the name of her company is Routing Router. She said she previously ran Action Plumbing with her husband. She said she sold Wagner & Sons.
However, city officials said Routing Router is also unlicensed, despite what Tkachuk said.
The city says that there are several different plumbers and different business names attached to that address and they are not legit.
Tkachuck said she would look into complaints from McCartney and Dilworth.
"Every time there is a complaint or something we try to correct it," she said.
Messages to other plumbers named in receipts and city documents were also unreturned.
Experts said homeowners who need emergency plumbing work should first make sure the plumber is operating a licensed business so there is an option for recourse if there is a problem.
Tips from Plumbing Council of Chicagoland
For free referrals you can call 1-800-76-VALVE (82583) or visit www.plumbingcouncil.org for both 24 hour emergency service or to locate a licensed, bonded and skilled plumber in their area.