WMBF Investigates: S.C. lawmakers seek to protect future pool buyers

Updated: Mar. 17, 2020 at 9:33 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A bill proposed in the South Carolina Statehouse aims to protect consumers from untrained pool builders.

The bill would require individuals who build residential swimming pools to earn a state license. Currently, only commercial pool builders are required to be licensed in the state.

S.C. Rep. Dennis Moss, (R) – Cherokee, is one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

“The intent of the bill is to protect the homeowners because a lot of people when they search on the internet and search ‘swimming pool contractor,’ a lot of them come up and the bad guys they get caught up with will change their name or start operating under another name,” Moss said.

Moss said he wasn’t aware a license wasn’t required until he heard from residents in his area who gave thousands of dollars to a contractor who left their backyard a nightmare.

“This couple lost the use of their pool for the past few summers,” he said. “It’s just been devastating for that couple, just a nightmare, and you can’t give back what they lost. Even if they get their pool back one day and make whole with their backyard, they still lost the memories that they would have had.”

Bill Seay, president of Quality Pools and Spas, has worked as a pool builder in North Carolina and South Carolina for two decades. He said he receives two to three calls a week from consumers who need help finishing their pools.

“I’ve been to houses looking at projects, where they’ll get started on a project and it will be nine months later and they can’t reach the person and that’s part of the problem. When you are licensed, you get regulated by the state, so me as a licensed builder in North or South Carolina, if I don’t do my job, the consumer has some protection because they can contact the state and my license is then in jeopardy,” Seay said.

He said adding state regulations would get customers another way to seek recourse from bad builders and require builders to be bonded.

Since Seay builds both commercial and residential pools, he already has a state licensed. He explained he had to have work experience, study for around nine months and then pass a three-hour test.

He believes this bill is needed because there is not much difference in the construction of a commercial versus a residential pool.

In the lack of state licensing, it’s often up to the individual counties to make sure the business has a local business license.

“That’s what’s missing a lot with people who don’t have to go get a license. They just go down and get a business license for $125 and poof they’re a pool builder,” Seay said.

However, some counties do not issue a business license and WMBF Investigates previously uncovered in Horry County pool permits have been issued to companies despite a lack of a business license on file.

Seay also works in North Carolina, where a residential pool building license is already required. He said he thinks that’s why he’s never gotten a call from a consumer who needed their pool finished.

Sixteen complaints have been filed against swimming pool contractors with the Better Business Bureau in the last year, according Dr. John D’Ambrosio, CEO of the regional BBB.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a lot of complaints about contractors. You know people who have lost $50,000, $70,000 - it’s just criminal - by folks that are really shady business people are taking advantage of people and I think, like I said, it’s a minority of people who are doing that, but they give a bad reputation to all the others,” D’Ambrosio said.

The South Carolina House of Representatives passed the bill in February, but not all lawmakers voted in favor.

“Well I guess there is so many regulations on small businesses, I don’t see that you would have to have a license for a swimming pool for a residential,” said Rep. Kevin Hardee, (R) – Horry, who voted to not pass the bill.

Locally, Horry County representatives Alan Clemmons, Heather Ammons Crawford and Russell Fry also voted against the bill.

“Do you have to have a license for every single thing you do?” Hardee asked. “I know you have to have to have a license to be a builder or a contractor, but at the same time a swimming pool is a little bit simpler job that doesn’t require as much knowledge as say a general contractor who is building a home or an office building. I guess I just look at it from too many regulations on small businesses already.”

Both Seay and D’Ambrosio said they are against adding regulations, but this bill is different; it’s about adding protections for the consumer.

“When you’re dealing with child safety, when you’re dealing with regulation of drains, any entrapment drains, I mean electrical is the big one. When you are dealing with people untrained, again, would you let somebody build a house for you that was unlicensed and untrained?” Seay said. “It’s a big ticket item for most consumers and a big safety item.”

D’Ambrosio said if the bill passes, the BBB will have to educate consumers to ask for the license. He also predicted the price of pools may increase.

“I think people have to understand when a regulation like this goes in there is some things that have to happen. Communities have to have the resources to go and inspect pools that are going in. It will result in slightly higher cost,” D’Ambrosio said. “While you’ll get more quality, it will result in a little bit higher cost.”

Seay said he’s not supporting the bill to decrease competition. He thinks anyone who wants to get qualified is able to. Instead, his goal is to increase the quality and safety of the industry.

“The last thing you want to have in your industry is you start having some major failure of pools, you start having safety issues with pools and that becomes a reflection on your entire industry,” Seay said.

The South Carolina Senate still needs to vote on the bill before it is passed. Currently, the bill is in a Senate committee.

Tips before you buy:

  • Search reviews on the BBB: https://www.bbb.org/
  • Talk to previous customers
  • Get bids from multiple pool companies.
  • Seay said it’s a red flag if customers are asked to pull a pool permit.
  • You can also check if the business or owner has any judgments against them: https://publicindex.sccourts.org/horry/publicindex/
  • Check if the company has a business license in Horry County by calling: (843) 915-5620

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