WMBF News investigates online rental dangers

Published: Nov. 4, 2010 at 5:14 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 5, 2010 at 12:02 AM EDT
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(Source: ABPD)
(Source: ABPD)
(Source: ABPD)
(Source: ABPD)

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – A WMBF News investigation reveals a local woman, featured in several news reports all across the country as a woman trying to make a difference in the grand strand, may not be delivering on that image.

Many people say Amy Breunig is using Craigslist to get renters to give deposits for homes that are in terrible condition.

"I'm lost for words that it is allowed to continue to happen; somebody needs to step in and do something about it," expresses an angry Stephen Sumpter, Breunig's former employee.

Many of the news reports on Breunig portray her as a Good Samaritan, specifically trying to help turn around Atlantic Beach. However, she has been behind bars… twice, and that's just the start of her legal trouble.

WMBF News Anchor Chandi Lowry has spent weeks pouring through police reports, court cases and talking to people who say something needs to be done immediately.

"Once I started asking questions…the floodgates started to open," reveals Lowry.

Bruenig has a stack of complaints filed against her at the Atlantic Beach Police Department from people who claim they fell victim to her online rental listings.

One particular complaint came from Stephanie Horchner, who has a judge backing her claims that Bruenig stole money from her after responding to an ad on Craigslist.

Stephanie Horchner wanted to move to Myrtle Beach from Maryland, and decided to use the popular website to find her new home.

That's where she also discovered Breunig's listing for apartments in Atlantic Beach.

"She said it would be month to month and when we would come to pick up the keys we would sign the paperwork at that time," explains Horchner.

Not signing an agreement before handing nearly $1,000 is something Horchner now regrets.

"Everything seemed legitimate at first until it got closer to sending the money, it got closer to getting the keys," recalls Horchner.

Horchner says after getting the run around, the staff at Cottages at the Beach told her the apartment she made a down payment on was not ready. So, they offered her another one.

The new Myrtle Beach resident later found out the electricity could not be turned on because it didn't pass a town inspection. Horchner refused the second apartment and wanted her money back.

Horchner soon received a letter from Breunig saying that the cash was non-refundable.

"We lost $976, and since this situation we have paid $80 in court costs," says a regretful Horchner.

Horchner won her civil case against Breunig and a judge ordered the would-be landlord to pay.

Bruenig is fighting a another complaint from a man who says he also was targeted by her online postings.

"She's [Bruenig] taking people's money and she is hurting people," says Scott Topal.

Topal says around the same time Stephanie Horchner was supposed to move into Breunig's property, she also took a down payment of $1,700 from him for the exact apartment.

"[Horchner] was supposed to move in the day I got there and paid for the house also," Topal explains.

Topal received a very similar explanation: The apartment advertised on Craigslist wasn't ready and he was offered another place.

With nowhere to go. Topal agreed to take the second apartment.

Stephen Sumpter used to work for Breunig and says she would lure people with an ad of a particular space, then offer sub standard living conditions.

"[Breunig] would advertise for a different room, then, claiming that the other room wasn't available, and the lesser room was absolutely horrible, deplorable," indicates Sumpter. "A lot of people rent from her come from out of state and they come sight unseen, and when they get down there they are stuck."

"There's mold. There's mold in the showers; there's mold in all of the corners; the air conditioner drips inside; there's sewage that drips from the upstairs apartment," conveys Topal with frustration.

"[There are] pipes that are not connected to anything," adds Topal.

Pictures have been taken by the Atlantic Beach Police Department that show the living conditions of some of Breunig's buildings.

Wires are seen hanging from the ceilings, trash in the yard, and mold covering the walls.

Several others who used to work for Breunig share the same experience.

"Mold on the walls…she had me wipe them down with soap and water and paint over them," claims Luther Miller.

"I have been told to spray Clorox over the molded area so people, when we go to show it, don't see it," agrees another former employee.

Town Manager William Booker and the police department want to put an end to Breunig's business practices.

"We've had numerous complaints from various residents about the conditions of the building, about financial transitions relating to rent," confirms Booker.

Lowry caught up with Amy Bruenig to hear her side of the numerous accusations.

"I found her just minutes before being arrested on charges over rent payments," says Lowry.

"People are saying a lot of bad things about you and you are sitting here saying that's not the case," explains Lowry to Breunig in front of the J. Reuben Long Detention Center. "Why would all of these people say all of these things about you and you're saying you're doing good deeds?"

"I think it's because the police have encouraged them," claims Breunig.

Complaints obtained from the police department range from electricity being turned off for days, to water bills not being paid and people with children being evicted in the middle of the night.

Breunig goes on to say, "I think the exact opposite is true, and Atlantic Beach is trying to paint me like that."

Another potential problem, Bruenig has no business license in Atlantic Beach. Once Lowry started looking into the case, Breunig filed for the license, claiming while she waits for approval, she is not renting her properties to any new tenants.

"Currently, the people who are living there, are living there, but we are not taking new people," says Breunig.

However, the WMBF investigation finds that is not true.

Just hours after Breunig was released from jail in late October, more ads popped up on Craigslist.

The WMBF undercover video shows a worker for Bruenig showing property to a potential renter, claiming the properties are "pit bull" and "drug friendly".

Breunig says she plans to appeal Horchner's win in the civil lawsuit, and Horchner has yet to receive any repayment from Breunig.

WMBF News will continue to watch the developments and bring updates to this ongoing story.

Copyright 2010 WMBF News. All rights reserved.