Last year my chimney sweep informed me that my galvanized chimney crown was rusting after 19 years of weather exposure. He took photos to show me. While it has not rusted through his recommendation was to replace it within a year or suffer potential water damage.
He claimed that it should have originally been made of stainless steel and would replace it for $1200. I told him we would wait for next year to make the repair.
A little over a month ago I noticed some chimney work being done down the road. In front was placed a sign advertising 50% off all chimney work.
A day or so later while enjoying a cool homebrew in my garage man-cave a fellow came walking up to the door. He was the guy working on the chimney down the road and told me my chimney crown looked worn and asked if he could give me an estimate to replace it. I was impressed that he could tell it needed replacement looking at it from the ground. We walked over to the chimney and he said he would replace the metal crown with one made of limestone for $400. It was at that point I mentioned that my sweep already informed me of the condition but recommended stainless steel. He stood by limestone as the best solution.
His story was that work has been hard to find so he is reducing rates to stay busy. His price was low with the intent of getting more work in my neighborhood and asked that I not mention the price when speaking with neighbors. He talked about his work ethic while showing me a photo album of his past projects. We went back to the garage and I agreed to give him the work.
He liked to talk and told me he was originally from the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. That right there should have been a clue but my “he’s from Chicago” guard was down.
The next day he and his assistant came by and began to erect the scaffold. He presented me with a contract which I signed and wrote him a check for $200. While watching them erect the scaffold I asked if he had enough sections to reach the 42’ high chimney crown. Sarcastically he asked if I was questioning his methods. No, was my answer, but looking at the four sections it appeared that it wasn’t going to make it.
A short time later he showed up at the door and admitted I was correct. He would return the following day with more sections. The sections showed up but because it was raining he asked to reschedule. Fine.
On the following day I saw him rebuilding the brick steps at a home down the road belonging to the mayor. He flagged me down telling me he would start my chimney the following morning. Then, nothing for over a week.
One morning the doorbell rang. It was the mason worker’s step-son informing me that his dad was in jail for violating a restraining order. Upon his release dad would return to complete the chimney work. My first feeling was sympathetic but that’s because I am a softie. The more I thought about it something seemed strange.
Another week went by and the phone rang. It was the mason. He apologized. He explained that went to his old home to get more supplies and his ex-wife was there and called police, who arrested him and threw him in the slammer. This was his second week in jail and now it really began to smell. Without any questions on my behalf he told me a story I did not want to hear. He is an admitted alcoholic and was in the middle of an ugly divorce.
At this point he asked if I would be patient and wait until he was released to complete the project or if I wanted my $200 back. Without giving it a thought I asked for my cash back. He understood.
It has been five weeks since the scaffold was erected around my chimney.
This morning the bell rang. It was 7am and I answered wearing my thick terry cloth robe. The flannel-clad dude told me he was a friend of the mason and he was here to claim two sections of scaffold which the mason borrowed from him. I stepped out on the porch in bare feet and told him it made no difference to me who owned the scaffold, it wasn’t leaving until I had my $200 back.
I asked this guy how much the scaffold was worth. His answer was that in all, the scaffold was worth anywhere from $800-$1000. I told him that if I did not have my money returned within a week I would offer up the scaffold for sale on craigslist. He did not like that thought and said he would try to get $200 today and return so he could claim his two sections. I told him to go with God and warned him about trying to reclaim his property without $200 cash. He took my phone number and left. I am not expecting to hear from him today, tomorrow or the rest of the week.
I immediately went into the garage, found two feet of thick anchor chain and a spare motorcycle fork lock and locked the scaffolding together. The top two or three sections are unlocked but since it is outside my bedroom window the noise made by removing it would wake me.
Getting ripped-off this way makes me very pissed. These thieves are treading deep into my “don’t you fvck with me” territory and I take that very seriously. Then again, turning $200 into $800 would be enough to satisfy me and help to pay a reputable tradesman to do the job.
This could be a win-win.