Soaked by an unlicensed plumber, Avondale man hopes others might avoid similar problems

Jacob Hicks Googled “plumber” and found a company that listed an address near his home. It turned out to be a fake. And he was left with a costly mess.

SHARE Soaked by an unlicensed plumber, Avondale man hopes others might avoid similar problems
Jacob Hicks standing in the gangway at his Avondale home, looking at a rolled-up garden hose and an outdoor faucet that’s connected to a pipe inside his finished basement. A problem with the faucet and pipe led him to call a plumber.

Jacob Hicks in the gangway at his Avondale home, where a broken water faucet and pipe led him to call a plumber.

Victor Hilitski / Sun-Times

When Jacob Hicks realized that a broken outdoor faucet at his home in Avondale was part of a bigger plumbing problem inside, he did what a lot of homeowners would do: He searched Google for “plumber” near his neighborhood.

Two weeks and one flooded basement later, he wishes he would have taken a deep breath before clicking on the website he found.

What happened after that left him frustrated and embarrassed. But Hicks, 44, who is a lawyer, says he hopes telling his story might spare others with plumbing problems keep from getting soaked.

It started when he noticed a problem with his outdoor faucet, which was connected to a broken pipe in his finished basement. Worried about water damage, he found and called what he thought was a local plumbing company, listed as LightningPlumbingService.com, whose address on its website was a few blocks from his house. A dispatcher sent a plumber to see about the job.

The service fee was $85, payable by cash or check.

Hicks says the plumber, who told him his name was “Tony,” looked at the faucet and pipe and said it would cost $700 to cut a hole in the wall, replace the broken pipe and patch the wall.

Fifteen minutes later, Hicks says, he came to check on the progress, and the man was furiously trying to sop up water from the bamboo flooring using his own sweatshirt. The pipe wasn’t fixed, and the man seemed overwhelmed.

“There’s a half inch to an inch of water on my basement floor,” Hicks says of the scene.

So Hicks balked at paying. At that point, he says, the plumber shut off the water to the house and announced he was leaving.

“I said, ‘I need running water, man. You can’t leave me with no water,’ ” Hicks says.

After some back-and-forth, Hicks says the man agreed to go buy some parts and fix the pipe for $240. Which he says he eventually did but that he didn’t thoroughly clean up the water damage or fix the holes in the ceiling and wall.

Hicks called his insurance company. To dry up the rest of the water, it got another company to bring fans and dehumidifiers — work that required a $1,000 deposit.

Now, Hicks is dealing with his insurer about getting reimbursed for the damage to the flooring and baseboards.

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The basement of Jacob Hicks’s house in Avondale, where a broken pipe and plumber’s visit left a hole in a wall and the ceiling and flooded the basement. He has two industrial-grade dehumidifiers and four fans working to dry out everything.

Victor Hilitski / Sun-Times

Upset about what happened, Hicks says he tried to reach a manager at Lightning Plumbing Service. That’s when he discovered the address on its website — 2804 N. Dawson Ave. in Chicago — doesn’t exist.

An employee of The Brewed coffee shop at 2843 N. Milwaukee Ave. — which has a side door that occupies what would be a neighboring address if such an address existed — hasn’t heard of the plumbing business except that other people also have come by asking for help finding it.

Illinois law requires plumbers to be licensed by the state or city and to register with state health authorities. But neither the Illinois Department of Public Health nor the Chicago Department of Buildings has issued a license to any Lightning Plumbing Service.

When a Chicago Sun-Times reporter called the phone number listed on LightningPlumbingService.com, the woman who answered said no managers were available and hung up when asked about the nonexistent address. An email went unanswered.

Reached by text at a number left with Hicks, the man who showed up at the house says he doesn’t know where Lightning Plumbing Service is located or whether it has a plumber’s license and that he wasn’t even the one who was there. He says it was “another guy” and that he doesn’t know how Hicks got his number.

And, he says, the plumbing company “owes me money, too.”

At about that same time, the LightningPlumbingService.com website went offline, though it still can be found on the Wayback Machine internet archive — bearing the motto, “We’ve got the wrench for the stench.”

HOW TO CHECK OUT PLUMBERS

HOW TO CHECK OUT PLUMBERS


Problems with construction and home improvement, including plumbing, ranked No. 1 among consumer complaints last year to the Illinois attorney general’s office. Home improvement scams snagged ninth place on the not-for-profit Better Business Bureau of Chicago’s list of consumer complaints.

Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, says consumers can take these steps to avoid getting cleaned out by an unlicensed plumber:


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