Soup kitchen left out in the cold after landlords changed locks

LELAND, NC (WWAY) — A Leland soup kitchen is out in the cold after their landlord changed the locks just days after rent was due.

“They changed the locks this morning and now I can’t get in,” said owner, Kory Sanderlin on December 15th. “This toy drive, about $80,000 of my personal equipment, and all these toys I’m raising for the community, on the other side of a wall I can’t get into.”

Before he turned his business into a soup kitchen, Sanderlin opened M&K’s Kitchen on Village Road.

The problems started in December 2020, when an employee fell through the floor. Sanderlin says his former landlord, CHEWCWC (owned by Kyle Kelsay and Chris Baker) sent someone from their company, Source Contracting Solutions to fix it.

“They rushed to fix it,” Sanderlin remembered. “Their time at fixing it was quick. They assured me that the rest of the floor was sound.”

But an invoice from Source Contracting Solutions tells a different story. The contractor states: “To prevent catastrophic failure… if work is not performed before February 2021… entire cookline and kitchen floor will collapse as weather begins to warm up and moisture levels increase.

Months later, a second and third employee fell through the floor, and M&K had to shut down for weeks, losing business. When Sanderlin tried to recover money for food loss and business interruption, he said his insurance said his landlords and their contracting company could be liable.

“When I requested that (insurance) information, they started stonewalling me,” said Sanderlin.

Sanderlin closed his restaurant and reopened as Bare Necessities Soup Kitchen, a pay or donate what you can soup kitchen that feeds men and women five days a week, applying for non-profit status.

“I couldn’t keep my regular business model running,” he said, “with losing product that way and their insurance not paying for my losses yet.”

He said the flooring problems continued, and so did the repairs.

“On December 5th, my mom fell through the floor. So, I’m sorry, I don’t trust any of the work that they haven’t finished. The floor that they’ve done, I will tell you, it’s sound. It’s hard, it’s a good floor. But they floor they’re avoiding fixing, I don’t trust with my life.”

The Town of Leland confirms permits were only pulled for this month’s work, and not for previous repairs.

Just after a building inspector cleared the flooring Source Contracting redid, Sanderlin called Town of Leland to inspect the entire building. According to a Town of Leland representative, an inspection on December 13 revealed other areas of damage, with the building not safe for occupancy.

Sanderlin’s rent was due by the first with a 10 day grace period. After being four days late for the grace period, the landlords’ attorney texted Sanderlin a letter ordering him off the property. The next day, the locks were changed.

“It just says if I fall behind on rent, I owe, them, and it’s a percentage,” Sanderlin said, pointing at his lease. “It adds up to 200 dollars in a late fee. And I’ve paid that in the past.”

UNC School of Law Professor Kathryn Sabbeth couldn’t comment specifically on this case, but said landlords are not supposed to change the locks unless there is a legal order authorizing them to do so. Even is you are late on rent, she said, a landlord does not have the authority to force tenants out. The court does.

The landlords’ attorney however, disagreed with Sabbeth’s first point.

“This is just a commercial lease situation,” said Aaron Linquist with Coastal Legal Council. “They’d been in default multiple times. They were in default this time and the new buyer didn’t want… they were requiring the termination since there was issues with the tenant prior to closing.”

After the locks were changed, Sanderlin received a summons days later to appear in court on the 29th. In the meantime, Sanderlin is trying to find legal council, worried about the children counting on toys from his toy drive and men and women he feeds regularly.

“These people are going a week without food. Their stuck in this area, a rural area where there’s not a lot of aid. They’ve got us shut out. Physically shut out. I mean, how could it not affect this community.”

The former landlords, Kyle Kelsay and Chris Baker of CHEWCWC sold the building to a new owner this week. The new owner is allowing Sanderlin to retrieve his belongings, but plans to tear the building down on January 3rd.

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