Surfside officials want family to demolish lower level of house, so couple fights back with lawsuit

A local couple has filed a suit against the town of Surfside Beach and its newest councilwoman, Julie Samples, saying that they owe damages after they bought a house that does not align with the town’s flood violations.

Julian and Shirley Lazar bought a house on North Myrtle Drive for $460,000 in January 2015. The house includes an enclosed lower level that the suit claims — and Samples confirmed — was filled with furniture at the time the house was shown to the couple.

Shortly after the property was purchased, however, the Lazars were informed by Surfside that the bottom-level enclosure violates flood regulations, that it could not be used and that they would have to remove any present drywall, heating and cooling systems and electricity. The property was assessed at $305,930 for tax purposes in 2015, according to Horry County records.

Samples, the wife of former Surfside Mayor Doug Samples, who will be officially seated Sept. 13, was the Realtor representing the sellers of the home. She said the sellers were told that the house, which was modified in 2013 to enclose the bottom portion, was out of compliance.

“We go by what our sellers tell us,” she said. “I would not have known.”

Copies of city documents, including staff correspondence, building permits and inspections, show the previous owners were given no indication that enclosing their lower level was unlawful. An inspection ticket dated April 18, 2013, labeled “Inspection for final on storage area” showed that the city approved the space after a final check.

The suit also names the Lazars’ own agent, Bill Nichols, his employer, the title company that insured the Lazars’ house title and a contractor who originally completed the work to enclose part of the bottom of the house.

Phil Thompson, the attorney for the Lazars, could not be reached by phone, nor could Michael Battle, the attorney for the town of Surfside Beach.

Samples said she first received notice that the Lazars were considering a suit in December, when their attorney sent a letter to her and several others, including Surfside Town Administrator Micki Felner. The letter requested a response within 45 days, according to a copy obtained by The Sun News.

Doug Samples, who was then mayor, and Mary Beth Mabry, a former councilwoman who lost her seat in the spring, both told The Sun News they were not briefed about potential litigation by city staff after the letter was sent to Felner in December. Mabry said she was completely unaware of potential legal action against the city until the heading of the letter appeared on an anonymous political mailer earlier this month.

The mailer and several others criticized Samples in the run-up to her special election and suggested that legal action was being taken against her and the town. However, the suit was not filed until a day after Samples officially won the seat on Aug. 23, according to the Horry County Public Index.

Felner declined to comment about the suit or about the circumstances leading to it.

Correspondence between Battle and Thompson this year showed that the city had still not responded to the initial inquiry. In an email dated July 28, Thompson told Battle that he had not heard a response from the city until the day before, when Councilman Randle Stevens called him, having just learned of the suit. In the email, Thompson said he provided Stevens with a copy of the December letter.

The letter provided to Stevens was the same one that appeared on a mailer during Samples’ election, which listed “Task Force for Ethical & Trustworthy Government & Opinions” in its return address field. The mailer contains no other indication of who sent it.

Stevens could not be reached by phone or online message.

“My clients and I really had hoped a simple resolution, ordinance, etc., could have resolved this,” Thompson wrote in the July email to the town’s attorney. “However, due to the lack of responses and negative responses (from other parties), I have been instructed to file suit.”

Battle, in a response less than an hour later, said the town would not be able to make an exception for the property.

“I am already in litigation in connection with a similar claim on another property,” Battle wrote. “The town believes that if it waives the application of the ordinances required by FEMA, their actions would jeopardize all their residents’ ability to obtain flood insurance.”

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ