Without seeking eviction notices, owners of the motel at 303 W. Chatham St.--Sheila Ogle, a prominent businesswoman and former Town Council candidate, and her husband, Carroll--have cut off the electricity, though one of the residents is diabetic and needs to keep his insulin in a refrigerator.
Cary police have been called to cite the residents for trespassing--but refused because the residents were there legally. When an officer found the power had been shut off, he told the manager it had to be turned back on.
Little by little, the pressure has worked, and most of the residents have left. But four have resisted. "I'm tired of these damn people trying to treat me like an inhumane dog," says John Dooley, a carpenter and Vietnam War veteran. "I thought I lived in America."
Another resident is Joseph Spinks, known around town known as "The Preacher." He's a veteran who's often seen walking the streets in his religious and military outfits. His mother, Mattie, says she comes every week to pay his rent and make sure he has a place to stay. Rents in the 15-unit motel are around $125 a week, residents say.
The Ogles say they want to either fix up the property or tear it down. They also have placed a "For Sale" sign outside the building.
"It's a horrible eyegem for the downtown," Sheila Ogle says.
Sheila Ogle is well-known in town. She is the CEO of the ad agency Media Research Planning and Placement Inc. and ran for the town council in 1999, but dropped out of the race in hopes of getting appointed to the state House of Representatives. She didn't get the appointment.
This isn't the first time the Ogles have been part of a housing controversy. In 1997, they were criticized by Town Council members for trying to rezone a piece of property they owned near a propane plant and a former chemical lab to build low-income housing.
The current dispute is over the Chatham Station Efficiencies and Rooms, which the Ogles bought in February along with a large home next door. The motel wasn't making money, Sheila Ogle says.
The residents say they first learned that the Ogles wanted them to leave when a letter appeared in their mailboxes on May 31. The letter said that due to low occupancy, the motel was being closed. "Please find other accommodations by early July." But only two rooms in the motel were vacant when it was sold, according to the previous owner's records.
Carroll Ogle says he never filed any formal eviction notices so the tenants would not have to be "forcibly removed." But things started coming to a head this month.
James Hawley, who's diabetic, says he came home July 10 and found his electricity cut off. Fortunately for Hewley, another resident, John Jablonski, a maintenance man known as "Plumber John," was able to restore electricity to the motel. That same day, John Dooley says he came home and found that his door had been broken into with a saw.
The Ogles disagree about whether they cut off the electricity. Sheila Ogle says they shut off the utilities in the motel because, as far as they knew, no one was living there. Carroll Ogle says he knew people were still living there, and the power "was never turned off."
But Cary police say they found the power turned off on July 19.
"We got a call about trespassing," says Cary Police Lt. Tony Godwin. But when an officer arrived, he determined that there had been no eviction process, so no one could be cited. The officer also ordered the power turned on, Godwin says.
Under North Carolina law, a landlord may not cut off utilities to get someone to move, according to fairhousing.com. "It is never legal to ... coerce a person out by shutting off utilities," said Fred Pierce, a Raleigh real estate attorney.
John Jablonski says the Ogles will have to forcibly remove him if they want him out. "I ain't leaving til the sheriff tells me I have to go," he says.
But he may be the only person willing to fight anymore. All of the other tenants have made plans to move in the upcoming weeks. And The Preacher's mother says he's going to live with her until he can find a new home.