When Jack Bankston, 70, and his mother moved in 15 years ago, he knew he would spend the rest of his life there.
The retired X-ray technician has lived in the same apartment at The Berkeley at Southpoint complex ever since. Over the years his rent has gone up $30 or $40 a month, he said, until this year when it is scheduled to increase $145, from $950 to $1,095.
Bankston, who is terminally ill with pulmonary disease and a heart condition, lives on a fixed income. He has until March 13 to let his landlord know whether he plans to stay or leave.
When they moved in, Bankston said he considered the apartment “my home forever.” After his mother, for whom he was caretaker, died in 2007, he remained with his Pekingese dog, Casey.
He is not strong enough to move, he said, and does not know where he would go.
“I have no assets, only $25 in a savings account and that’s so I can continue to receive free checking,” he said. He owns a 15-year-old car he rarely drives and had to melt his mother’s jewelry to fix the transmission.
“The only way out is with a toe-tag,” he said.
Bankston said he took care of the apartment “as his own,” and even so, he and his power of attorney, Carol Eivest, say he has dealt with numerous water problems including a leaking ceiling, flooded floors and mold over the years.
Through it all, Bankston said he never wanted to leave.
Last November, he and his hospice nurse met with the complex owner David King. Bankston said he was told he was a model tenant and that the carpet would be replaced but he would need to move the furniture to have it done.
He wiped out the last of his savings to pay the movers but got the replacement, he said. Soon after his lease renewal form arrived.
Efforts to reach King or the complex management for comment for this story were unsuccessful.
Eivest, 67, has been Bankston’s power of attorney for the past six months. She said Bankston has only five to six months to live.
“It’s not illegal, but it’s cruel,” she said of his predicament. “With his health issues he doesn’t need that.”
She has known Bankston since 1978 and said he is fiscally responsible and even with his health bills, continued to pay his credit card payment regularly. Things began to get so bad that she urged him to stop and just pay rent.
He tried to surrender his dog to his veterinarian to pay the medical bills it has amassed in its own old age. But his vet called him back saying Bankston needed the dog.
“If he pays this increase, he’s taking it out of the little food budget he has or he’ll have to decrease his medicine,” Eivest said. “He needs that to stay alive.”
Eivest, who lives in Wilmington, said she was told she could set an appointment to discuss Bankston’s rent but that it isn’t feasible for her to drive to Durham for a 30-minute meeting.
“I told them that I would talk to them over the phone or that they could even talk to Jack, but no one has done that,” she said.
In January, Duke HomeCare & Hospice wrote a letter to King, saying a rent increase would be “devastating” and that Bankston’s “greatest wish is to be able to live out his final days in the apartment that he has enjoyed over the last 15 years.”
Last week Bankston decided to go to the media to help. A friend has set him up a GoFundMe page but Bankston now worries he could be evicted for causing a stir.
He said he isn’t asking to stay for free, only to freeze his rent where it is.
“My mom always taught me to pay bills first and eat second,” Bankston said. “Let me die with my dog. I can handle death and dying, but these other obstacles have got to go.”