PILOT MOUNTAIN —For most Americans, home ownership is an integral part of the American Dream, but for Cathy Smith that dream has turned into something of a nightmare.
For the first time in her life, Smith has purchased a home of her own. Unfortunately, officials at Duke Energy are refusing to turn on her electricity until she pays a bill left by a previous tenant.
Smith, 37, purchased a mobile home in December and was trying to be in the home on Jan.1.
“We have been trying to get the power turned on so I could start remodeling work while (the previous tenant) was in the process of moving out,” Smith said.
A call to Duke Energy revealed she didn’t owe them any money.
In fact, she has never had an electric account in her name.
“I called Duke power and they said I didn’t owe them a bill, but then they kept on looking and found that the person I bought the trailer from had stolen power,” she said, noting that the previous tenant was renting from his father and the mobile home was in the father’s name.
“They found that the man had allegedly stolen power. They asked me for a bill of sale. Then they said they needed a copy of the title,” Smith said. “We sent those documents off.”
But the hoops she had to jump through didn’t end there.
“I own the trailer and the title is in my name,” Smith said. “They started coming up with all these different numbers they said was owed, and it ended up being $2,154.74.”
It is a number Smith, who receives a little more than $700 a month, broke down recalling.
“I’m on a fixed income through Social Security and have gotten a co-signer for the deposit on the power, but they say they won’t turn on the power until that $2,000 is paid,” she said, choking up. “That is not my bill or my responsibility. They shouldn’t be penalizing me for what (the previous tenant) did. I bought this place after all that happened.”
Smith said she is afraid she’s going to have to move into her new home without electricity, noting that the power company seems intent on placing hurdles in her path.
“Every time I complete something they tell me I need to do, they tell me to do something else,” she said. “They keep on saying I need to do this and that, and I do what they say and they still won’t turn on my power. I’ve never heard of anyone doing something like that.”
Smith has close friends helping her prepare her new home, running an extension cord from a nearby home to power tools.
She said she is afraid there is going to be no alternative other than to live in her new home without power.
“I have to move out of where I’m living now by Feb. 1,” she said. “This is a big issue for me.”
Sitting in the living room surrounded by exposed studs and insulation, she nearly broke down in tears several times relating her story.
“This will be the first home I’ve ever owned,” she said quietly. “Everywhere else I’ve lived has been in the name of my ex-husband.
“If I can’t move in, I just don’t know,” she added. “Seriously, I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do. I have to have a roof over my head, but I hate the thought of having to live without power and hot water.
“But I may have no choice.”
Smith said she will be talking with a lawyer, but noted she may have to borrow the money to fight to have the power switched on.
Still, she couldn’t hide her pride in owning her own home.
“This is a pretty big deal for me,” she said. “It actually feels good to know that I own this home and have done it by myself.
“I just want my power turned on so I can actually feel like I’ve done something on my own.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.