When property managers at Durham’s Garden Terrace Apartments told resident Julie Williams to vacate her home, she turned to her community for support. Williams, who’s lived at the complex in Lakewood for six years, says she was notified Monday morning that she had until 5 p.m. that day to move out.

“They told me I had to turn in my keys,” Williams says, “and I told them, I don’t have no place to go.” Williams lives in a three-bedroom unit with her brother Joseph and her two sons, 17-year-old Diamond and 20-year-old Donovan.

Now, community activists are fighting to help Williams stay in her apartment. Williams’ struggle is just the latest development in a months-long conflict between residents and property managers.

A group of residents formed the Garden Terrace Tenants Union in December, primarily to protest overdue maintenance requests and unacceptable living conditions. The union, which receives support from Durham advocacy group Bull City Tenants United (BCTU), ultimately wants a new lease agreement for each tenant that would provide additional rights. 

Residents and their supporters have held multiple rallies and even protested outside the home of Jonathan Dayan, who manages the investment group that owns Garden Terrace. 

On Monday, they turned their attention towards helping Williams stay in her home. Union members took to social media to ask the community to contact Wilson Property Management, the company that manages Garden Terrace, and demand that Williams not be evicted. 

According to a BCTU Facebook post, Williams was offered a year long lease in February, but the offer was suddenly revoked on March 1. Beth Black, owner of Wilson Property Management, says the situation is not that simple and Williams is not actually being evicted. 

Williams was never on a lease at Garden Terrace, Black says. The leaseholder for her unit, who Williams had been living with, moved out unexpectedly last fall. Black says her company offered to transfer the month-to-month lease to Williams’ name, but doing so would make Williams responsible for a back rent fee that the previous leaseholder had accumulated.

To avoid this, Wilson Property Management advised Williams to apply for a brand new lease, for which she was approved in February. The new lease requires a $600 security deposit and monthly payments of $975, which Black says is the current market price.

Williams was previously paying around $770 per month for rent, she says, and can’t afford the higher rate. Black says Williams was asked to leave the unit on March 1 because she never signed her lease.

Williams is still in her apartment, and is asking Wilson Property Management to lower her rent. Meanwhile, Black and Dayan say they are facing extreme harassment from the tenants union and their supporters.  

Deanna Sweat, the Wilson employee who oversees Garden Terrace, says she has received more than 50 voicemails regarding Williams’ lease. Posts circulating on social media, originating from the BCTU Facebook page, share Sweat’s full name and blame her for the situation.

Many of the messages were personal, hateful attacks, Black says. “I had to send all my employees home from the office yesterday,” she says. “We were receiving threats.” 

Recordings of the messages obtained by the INDY contain profanity directed at Sweat. Dayan says that Bull City Tenants United is spreading misinformation in order to fuel anger towards the management company. 

“Their posts on social media are full of false information,” Dayan says. “The harassment that’s going on right now is way beyond normal.” 

Black did not say whether her company would agree to lower Williams’ rent. She feels attacked by the community, she says, and is seeking legal guidance before moving forward.