Residents at the Ocean Apartments in Atlantic Beach will have until Aug. 31 to vacate the premises or be evicted, according to an agreement between the building’s owner Dean Mabie and the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.
Adam Protheroe, the apartment tenants’ attorney, also agreed to the compromise.
“It gives them a little extra time, a little extra funds to try and find another place,” Protheroe said. “That’s not always easy to do. But it was a good result under the circumstances.”
Judge Benjamin Culbertson was hearing a solicitor's office motion for a temporary injunction to close the building while the case was being litigated. The solicitor's office made the motion after Protheroe, an attorney with the nonprofit S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, got involved on behalf of the tenants, who had been told they had until July 15 to get out.
The planned July 15 move-out was the result of an abatement order previously agreed to by Mabie and the solicitor’s office following a drug bust in the fall of 2018.
The solicitor’s office had called witnesses during the hearing in an attempt to characterize the building as a haven for drugs and criminality, while Protheroe and Mabie’s attorney, Ralph Wilson Sr., tried to show that resident calls to Atlantic Beach police for issues at the building had been more frequent in previous years, and that the property was surrounded by land owned by the mayor’s family.
A drug bust in the fall of 2018 netted almost a dozen people, mainly on drug charges. And in April 2019, an undercover officer again made controlled drug buys at the building, according to court documents.
Tenants living there in the summer of 2019 argued that the trash had been taken out: the folks living there now are not the problem.
Several residents intervened after retaining Protheroe, who had argued in court documents that the July 15 date didn’t give the tenants enough time to move out, that the tenants he represented had never been charged with any wrongdoing during any of the drug busts and that the residents never had a chance for their voice to be heard in the proceedings.
But the solicitor’s office contended that the abatement action was against the building itself and its reputation. Even if the tenants weren’t breaking the law, illegal activity was occurring, and that was enough to justify the abatement, the solicitor argued.
Indeed, a day after the scheduled July 15 move-out date, several people at the building were arrested for small amounts of cocaine and marijuana when officers from North Myrtle Beach police served a warrant looking for evidence in another case. They were assisted by the State Law Enforcement Division, which made the arrests.
During the Monday hearing on Protheroe’s motion, Wilson told the judge that Mabie would agree to the abatement and give residents 30 days to leave.
“Under the circumstances, their landlord had the right to give them this notice anyway,” Protheroe said.
The new agreement states that the apartment building is a nuisance, will refrain from operating until June 4, 2020, and that Mabie will evict any tenants who do not leave by Aug. 31. One tenant, a security guard who lives upstairs, is permitted to stay.
Wilson, a building tenant in attendance and Mabie declined to comment. Judge Culbertson said he would finalize the agreement later in the form of a court order.