HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - It’s been over a year since Stephanie Militano decided she was going to surprise her children with an in-ground pool.
Summer and backyard holiday parties passed but Militano is still waiting for her pool.
“I don’t open up the back windows or anything anymore because it’s too depressing to look at,” said Militano standing in her backyard full of mud and forgotten pipes.
She said she reached out to around 15 other pool companies before choosing Premier Pools last March.
“He told me in eight weeks it would be completed and then it went to 12 weeks because it was a cement pool and here we are now a year later and I don’t have anything in there except a green pond,” Militano said.
Multiple payments over seven months added up to more than $30,000 for the single mother.
“He’s got $31,000 of my money and he didn’t complete any of it,” Militano said. “They told me out there maybe I have, maybe, $4,000 worth of work that’s it.”
Mark Kuhlman, the owner of Premiere Pools, said a lack of payment from Militano caused him to stop working. He said the job could still be finished if he had the money, but she didn’t want to continue with the contract.
However, checks provided by Militano reveal she paid more than the initial $29,000 contract.
“There’s no filter, there’s no pump, there’s no electrical, there’s no plaster. The pool is not completed, it’s only a cement hole with some tile around it,” Militano explained.
The Longs resident isn’t the only one claiming Premier Pools never finished their pool.
The company has a $84,000 judgement against it for “never fully completed any phase” of a pool in 2016.
Kuhlman and Premier Pools also have thousands of dollars in other judgements, according to Horry County court records.
A former employee with Premier Pools said he worked on seven pools with the company that were never finished. The employee said he would just be pulled from jobs but it wasn’t because customers didn’t pay.
Although the business is in “good standing” with the state as a limited liability company, WMBF uncovered the business is not licensed with Horry County.
County officials said the business had a license in 2013 but was denied in 2015.
Despite a lack of license, Horry County issued four pool permits to Premier Pools since 2017.
In addition to Militano, another former customer said his pool was never completed, and a social media post online claims another customer was left with an unfinished pool.
Of the four permits issued, only one customer said his pool was finished.
Militano said the discrepancy in the county’s permitting process makes her upset.
“Very upset that the county will be able to do that to people and let everyone get conned by a man that is taking thousands and thousands of dollars from somebody and like myself, a single parent, just trying to do something nice for my children and taking money,” she said.
The Horry County Code Enforcement Office said it does not crosscheck for a business license before issuing permits.
However, Horry County spokesperson Kelly Moore said a business license number is required as part of the application process.
Moore did not provide an answer to why permits were issued to Premier Pools and the code enforcement department declined an interview to clarify the process.
For Myrtle Beach Construction Services director Christopher Lee, an extensive permitting process is especially important for residential pool permits because the state does not require a license for contractors.
“For reasons unknown to me, the state of South Carolina requires a state license to do commercial pools but not residential pools so anytime you are allowing anybody to build something they haven’t tested proficient in it kind of leaves the door open for the unsavory elements of society to come in and prey on people,” Lee said.
Lee said business licenses are checked before a permit is issued in Myrtle Beach.
“We physically send the person who is applying for the permit to the business license counter,” Lee explained. “Before we give them the permit they have to be square with the business license office as well as our office and once they pay the permit fee and any license fee they may owe then we will give them the permit.”
Hartsville, the city of Florence, city of Georgetown, Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach officials also said checking for a business license is part of the permitting process.
In Georgetown, Florence, Darlington, and Dillon Counties, no business licenses are needed so residential pool builders are able to apply for permits without a license.
Georgetown County issued three permits to Premier Pools, one of those permits resulted in the $84,000 judgement.
Myrtle Beach had no business license or permits on file for Premier Pools.
Lee said he hasn’t heard of many complaints against residential swimming pool companies during his 20 years with the city. He points to the city’s strict permitting process as one reason why.
“It seems like an extra step but it provides an extra layer of protection to where we can catch them at that point if there is something wrong with their paperwork, something wrong with their state license, something wrong with owing any fees, it’s another level of protection for the customer,” Lee explained of the policy to check companies for business licenses.
Myrtle Beach does not check for judgements against a company and Lee said that is the responsibility of the customer. He advises people to ask for a contractor’s state license, proof of insurance, city business license, permit and references before hiring.
“If you are doing business with a contractor who will not provide you with any one of those five things, the red flag should be waving and you should not do business with them in my opinion,” Lee said. “They’re hiding something if they are not willing to provide those five things.”
Militano estimates it will be five years before she gets enough money to finish her backyard. In the meantime, she’s hoping county officials make a change in policies so no one else is left in her position.
“Something has to be done about this,” she said.