Monthly Archives: July 2015

“Rogue Plumbers” Plague Chicago

Plumber

Chicago city officials are warning homeowners about “rogue plumbers” who have been operating out of a building in the Canaryville neighborhood.

At least three different people have run businesses under several different names out of the building, located on the 700-block of West 47th Street, but there’s one thing they have in common: There are no business licenses registered to that address, and the plumbers in question face allegations of code violations and consumer fraud. Businesses at that location have been fined approximately $167,000 since 2008.

“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,” Maria Guerra Lapacek, a commissioner for the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, told the local ABC affiliate July 23.

In one recent case, resident John McCartney paid $10,000 for an emergency plumbing repair to a company called Wagner and Sons. But when he filed a claim, his insurance company said the repair should have cost only $1,800.

It’s easy for homeowners to end up overpaying for plumbing work, especially since they’re rarely educated as to their options. There are conventional repairs, trenchless repairs, different types of pipe and more. And it can be difficult to sort out how prices compare among those options; cured in place pipe, for example, has the same 50-year lifespan as a normal pipe, costs more, but is also faster (and therefore cheaper) to install.

Details of plumbing methods aside, homeowners often don’t scrutinize contracts when they’re dealing with a backed-up sewer line or water that’s been shut off.

Last year, Olive Dilworth also hired Wagner and Sons, paying $17,800 in order to get water service restored to her home — a repair her insurance only ended up covering $13,000 of. The contract she received, however, was written up as being with “Loews and Company.”

Both McCartney and Dilworth were given paperwork branded with the distinctive logo of home improvement giant Lowes, but there was no association between the store and the repairs.

“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,” Lapacek explained.

The BACF is encouraging any homeowners who may have been defrauded to file a report. Homeowners should also use listings on the city website to confirm that any plumbers they are considering hiring have been properly licensed, officials say.

Gun-Shaped iPhone Cases: The One Thing 2015 Doesn’t Need

woman uses a smartphone

Considering that eight out of every 10 people now carry around a cell phone, and most of those are iPhones that look exactly the same, it’s not surprising that there are some bizarre phone cases on the market. After all, what good is a smartphone if you lose it after someone mistakes it for their own?

From brass knuckle phone cases to rubbery animal cases that seem to serve as excellent puppy chew toys, consumers can find nearly any case to fit their style. But politicians are starting to agree that it’s time to draw a line with phone cases and personal expression.

The one thing you do not want to be carrying around now is a case shaped like a handgun.

According to the Chicagoist and Chicago Sun Times, the issue became a concern very quickly when the Chicago City Council caught wind of the trend. Considering the high rate of both non-fatal shootings and homicides in Chicago, local politicians have become increasingly concerned that the look-alike cases will prompt even more violence in one of the nation’s most dangerous cities.

Finance Committee Chairman Ald. Edward Burke has already stated that he would like to make Chicago the first city to ban possession of these phone cases. A former Chicago Police officer himself, Burke stated in a press release that “allowing these cases to proliferate in Chicago would be a threat to public safety and almost certainly lead to a tragic event.”

Although Chicago officials may be taking action against the cell phone cases faster than any other city, Chicago certainly isn’t the first major U.S. city to see the items as a safety threat.

According to the New York Times, Deputy Inspector Judith Harrison of the New York Police Department posted a message on Twitter urging people not to buy the cases, and New York Senator Chuck Schumer recently held a new conference in Manhattan asking local lawmakers to take action.

Perhaps the most surprising turn of events is the support that police forces and politicians are getting from the American public. But instead of the usual complaints and critiques of local officials, consumers have made their sentiments very clear in the product reviews on Amazon (which recently stopped selling the cases but declined to give any details about the decision, according to the NYT).

One reviewer’s reasoning seems particularly valuable: “What moron came up with this idea? We live in a society where every time there is an incident involving police, people immediately whip out their cell phones to record it. Can you imagine the reaction of police in the middle of a tense situation seeing someone pull this device out?”

Illinois Man Ends Up with Flooded, Moldy Basement After Town Fails to Provide Drainage

Missouri and Illinois have seen substantial flooding in what has turned out to be a wet summer, and for homeowners, the weather has presented some serious problems. For one man in Madison County, IL, flooding has caused an estimated $30,000 in damage to his home, and he’s left footing the bill.

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Jim Guthrie of Hartford Township says that the town failed to pump the low-lying area where his home sits along Illinois Route 3. Because of the numerous storms this season, Guthrie’s home became flooded on June 25, when more rains arrived.

The water seeped into his finished basement, producing mold along the edges of the room.

Guthrie explained that the home is in a flood-prone area, and his family tried to add sandbags around the basement’s sliding glass door. But after the storm, the basement nevertheless had three inches of standing water, which pushed Guthrie to approach the town about the problem.

Neighbors had also approached the town as early as June 22, saying that the township needed to pump the water in the ditch.

But Village Trustee Bernie Caldwell said there was no pump available, leaving area residents with flooding and Guthrie with a $30,000 bill for his moldy basement.

Typically, a flooded basement may be fixed with basement dewatering systems and other services for homeowners with damp or waterlogged basements. But for recurring problems with drainage, other solutions may be necessary.

As for those in Hartford Township, residents and village trustees alike want to find more permanent environmental solutions to prevent the area from being affected by the flooding.

At this time, flood warnings are still in effect for Madison County, IL, along with several counties in Missouri, including St. Louis County. The National Weather Service has warned that more rain could flood rivers in Missouri, including the Mississippi River, and levee breaks have flooded parts of Greene County, IL, near Madison County.

Hartford Township officials won’t admit fault for the incident, but they are working with Madison County and the Illinois Department of Transportation, along with other resources, to find new drainage solutions. Guthrie, meanwhile, has consulted with a lawyer about the issue.

Happiness to Return to Illinois, New Law Brings Back Happy Hour

Happy Hour colors

On July 15, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner brought happiness back to the Prairie State, signing a new law that allows happy hour alcoholic drink specials to return.

Back in 1989, Illinois law banned happy hour drink specials over concerns about drunk driving. Now, restaurants and bars can start offering drink specials for a specific number of hours, thanks to Rauner’s signature.

There are restrictions, though. Illinois law will now allow discounts on alcohol for up to fours each day, and up to 15 hours a week, just so long as the discounts are advertised a week in advance, and aren’t offered after 10 p.m. Volume specials, such as buy-one-get-one, remain prohibited.

Advocates of the new law celebrated the victory as a way to level the playing field for Illinois, and increase tourism to Chicago.

“This is an effort to recognize the fact that Illinois has become a culinary destination,” said state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz. “From heads in beds to butts in seats, food is really driving tourism in Illinois.”

Opponents, however, continued expressing fears that with the return of the dreaded happy hour would mean excessive drinking and drunken driving.

That being said, alcohol-related fatal crashes accounted for 49.6% of all fatal crashes in Illinois in 1988, according to The Chicago Tribune. In 2012, 41% of all fatal crashes in Illinois were alcohol-related.

Nevertheless, Illinois has also included several other restrictions, just to be safe. After all, state courts have looked to evidence of legislative intent in construing state law for over 100 years.

First, drinks can’t be given away as prizes, and games can’t involve consuming alcohol. Second, there can’t be any open bars — bars can’t offer unlimited drinks for a fixed price — unless it’s for a private function, such as a party. Third, violating the law could lead to the suspension or revocation of a license, or a fine.

The governor also approved bans on two powdered substances. One makes the sale of powdered alcohol a misdemeanor, and the other makes the sale of powdered caffeine to a minor a misdemeanor.

Burger and King Finally Get Whopper Wedding

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Each wedding is unique, but one that took place in Jacksonville, IL, on July 17 stands out.

When Illinois residents Joel Burger and Ashley King got engaged earlier this year and decided to take their engagement photos at a local Burger King, the photos went viral. And when the couple reached out to the fast-food chain in hopes of getting permission to use the Burger King logo on drink cozies to use as wedding favors, they got an unexpected answer: Burger King wanted to pay for the entire celebration — “a whopper of a wedding,” the company said.

“When we heard about the happy Burger-King couple, we felt an overwhelming urge to celebrate their upcoming marriage,” Eric Hirschhorn, Burger King brand spokesperson, told the State Journal-Register back in April. ”On so many levels it felt like fate; they found each other and their story found us.”

The pair have been referred to as Burger-King since they were in grade school together.

At their nuptials last Friday, they sipped from mason jars customized with the Burger King logo and posed wearing the chain’s signature paper crowns for some of their wedding photos. Joel wore Burger King cufflinks and hamburger socks (though they were subtle enough to be unnoticeable during the ceremony). The groomsmen were even provided with Burger King T-shirts to wear under their formalwear. Guests weren’t left out, either, all taking home $10 gift cards to Burger King.

The wedding party also received customized T-shirts reading “I [picture of a burger] take you [picture of a king].”

Burger King has declined to state the total cost of the wedding, but as of 2012, the national average cost for a wedding was $28,400.

Ashley will be changing her last name to Burger, the couple said, but they’ll likely always be known collectively as Burger-King.

Report: 73% of Illinois Roads Now in Poor or Mediocre Condition

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On Thursday, July 9, the U.S. Department of Transportation released new data revealing that a stunning 73% of roads throughout Illinois are now in poor or mediocre condition.

According to WREX, this is significantly worse than the national average; across the country, approximately 65% of roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

Additionally, 16% of Illinois’ bridges are now either structurally deficient or structurally obsolete, the Department of Transportation found.

Rough roads offer more than just a bumpy ride — they can cost drivers thousands of dollars in extra vehicle repairs each year. Roads in this condition cost American drivers an additional $335 each year in repairs; for drivers in large cities, these costs reach $746.

The Department of Transportation’s research found that Illinois drivers spend $2.4 billion each year on extra vehicle repairs stemming from rough roads and potholes, or about $292 per driver.

The U.S. DOT claimed that roads in Illinois are in such poor condition because of the state taking short-term measures rather than setting up long-term funding for more substantive road repairs.

At the same time, the state of Illinois is focusing on more frivolous projects, such as the $1.5 million it spent to create “The Driving Dead,” a series of videos intended to raise awareness about the rate of fatal car crashes in Illinois.

According to the Watchdog Arena, the Illinois Department of Transportation has been creating these videos, based on the popular TV series “The Walking Dead,” with money taken directly from its road repair fund.

To raise the money needed for the road repairs themselves, the state is now considering a gas tax increase — despite the fact that Illinois residents already spend $4 billion in state, federal and local gasoline taxes per year.

“The question every taxpayer should be asking is why is IDOT using road fund money to make movies instead of using it to fix the roads,” Watchdog Arena wrote.

New Chicago Bitcoin Center Opens in Chicago-Based Incubator Company 1871

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Chicago-based business 1871 recently announced that it’s launching a new project called the Chicago Bitcoin Center, which will aim to research the use of bitcoins in Chicago and developing secure networks for transferring bitcoins and other forms of digital currency.

According to reports from the Chicago Tribune and Inside Bitcoins, the Chicago Business Center is a “bitcoin-focused incubator” and the team will work with other tech startups to develop safer methods of transferring bitcoins, along with increased investments toward block chain technology.

The Center was announced at the Inside Bitcoins Conference in Chicago and was launched on Friday, July 10. CEO Howard A. Tullman recently told the Chicago Tribune that the use of digital currency is rising — even Citibank announced that it’s developing its own digital currency called Citicoin.

“When you have the biggest banks in the world starting to acknowledge that this is a viable currency and everybody has to be involved in it, we think it’s going to have implications for our companies,” Tullman stated.

Online consumer purchases are already driving the economy in the U.S., with around $1.2 million spent via e-commerce shopping platforms every 30 seconds, and an estimated $140 billion worth of mobile shopping sales generated by 2019.

The Center has already pulled together an impressive team of financial and tech experts, including Don Wilson, founder and CEO of DRW Trading, and Matthew Roszak, CEO of the Chicago Bitcoin Center and a founding partner at the Chicago-based Tally Capital.

Participating startups already include Glidera, which provides merchant payment processing systems for bitcoins, and Red Leaf, which is currently implementing bitcoin ATMs throughout Chicago.

According to Roszak, 1871’s unique combination of entrepreneurs from a variety of industries is exactly what makes the company so capable of building up companies that wish to focus on bitcoins; the Center’s “network of experienced technologists, marketers, advocates, investors and others” aim to transform the way businesses and consumers use digital currency.

Chicago Blackhawks Defenseman Opens Up About Divorce and Family Obligations

Leadership Signpost Showing Vision Values Empowerment and Encouragement

After a triumphant season helping bring the Chicago Blackhawks to Stanley Cup victory, defenseman Duncan Keith has taken some time for himself.

The Canadian player wound up relaxing after the championship win, having played more than 700 minutes during the postseason and taking home the Conn Smythe trophy.

“For a while I think all I had was Tim Hortons and ice cappuccinos and chocolate glazed donuts,” he said in a phone interview with the Chicago Tribune. “You need to be able to relax and have that break physically and mentally.”

Yet there are other reasons why Keith may have needed a break after the busy season: namely, due to his separation with wife Kelly-Raw one year prior.

The split was the subject of several rumors in the local press, and may have led to fighting between Keith and teammate Patrick Sharpe. Although gossip columns implied that Sharpe played a role in the separation, both players addressed the issue in the spring to say that the rumors of conflict were unfounded.

Keith and Kelly-Rae, who have begun working with divorce lawyers, also has a two-year-old son, Colton.

“Kelly and I are doing our best to co-parent Colton and raise him in a loving environment whether he’s with her or with me,” he explained.

Splitting custody is a relatively new phenomenon in many divorce proceedings, and it often requires some kind of third party decision. In 2011, 11% of custody decisions were made during mediation in a divorce; 5% of such cases were decided afterwards through court order custody evaluations for one or both parents.

In addition to taking time out for himself, Keith also needed to be there for Colton, which meant missing the Blackhawks convention in Chicago this past weekend.

Did he feel like he was missing out interacting with fans and teammates? Of course, Keith said.

“Obviously, I’d really like to be there at the convention because I always enjoy meeting new fans and seeing old ones, so that’s a little frustrating not being able to celebrate with all of them,” Keith said. “But in my own situation, I am going through a divorce. I’ve been separated for over a year now.”

Keith hopes that fans will be understanding of his absence, given his personal situation. “I hope everybody can respect that and our privacy,” he stated.

Houston Throws The Gauntlet: Chicago Soon To Be Fourth Largest City

Chicago Skyline

Residents of the city of Houston are feeling especially cocky this summer. Space City’s main newspaper, the Houston Chronicle boldly declared in June, “The question isn’t whether we’ll be the nation’s third-largest city. It’s when.”

According to statistics recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Chicago’s population growth slowed considerably in 2014, while the city of Houston continued a long-running surge in population growth. In 2014, most of Chicago’s biggest neighborhoods lost population overall, including a 34% decline in the south-side neighborhood of Riverdale.

Almost 40% of U.S. citizens never leave the city in which they were born; however, for Americans who do move, a new job is overwhelmingly the most popular reason. And Houston has consistently been ranked as one of the best U.S. cities for young professionals to find work in recent years. According to a Pew survey, 44% of Americans who moved said they did so because of a new job opportunity.

But for Windy City natives proud of their status as America’s third largest city, and the largest in the Midwest, there’s reason for hope. Many demographic experts are urging at least a little skepticism over Houston’s ambitious claims. University of Southern California demographer Dowell Myers said that Houston’s chances of overtaking Chicago were merely “probable,” not certain.

If Houston and Chicago both maintain the population growth rates seen so far this decade, then Houston will become the third largest American city in 2030, possibly even sooner.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Illinois and Chicago did have a disproportionate number of Generation X members living within their borders. That’s the generation of Americans that came of age in the John Hughes film era, with its Chicago-obsessed imagery and locales.

According to the Census Bureau figures, Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers nationwide, at 83.1 million and 75.4 million respectively. The nation is also becoming increasingly racially diverse.

Whether the Windy City retains its crown as America’s third largest city remains to be seen.

Chicago Places New Cloud Tax on Paid Streaming Services

Mobile cloud connection

The city of Chicago hasn’t been bringing in the revenue it needs to bandage up its current financial mess, but many residents and businesses in the Chicago area have begun voicing their discontent with the newest tax policy and stating that city officials have hit a new low.

Starting on September 1 of this year, the city will be starting what it calls a “cloud tax.” This tax would place a 9% fee on paid streaming services that use cloud-based platforms; services like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify will all be required to pay an extra fee, which means that the prices of these services will certainly go up.

Business Insider and Crain’s Chicago Business report that the “city amusement tax” is actually already in place, although it currently only applies to tickets purchased for sporting events and concerts. The newer cloud tax would be considered an extension of this amusement tax.

Lawmakers also explained that the space used by cloud computing services is considered property — city property — and the businesses that offer cloud-based services are essentially “leasing” that property.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the city expects to bring in about $12 million annually just from the cloud tax alone, which will certainly help the city climb out of its black hole of debt.

But if individual businesses suffer from the tax, the extra revenue that the city brings in won’t be very helpful in terms of financial stability. Recent estimates show that about 84% of companies that switched to the cloud ended up saving money, so it’s clear that the driving force behind cloud-based services is first and foremost cost-effectiveness.

In light of the many protestation, Chicago officials are reportedly considering to place startups in a group exempt from the cloud tax — but as for the other businesses, they’ll be left to fend for themselves.