FORT MILL -- State House candidate Montrio Belton owns a home in Fort Mill, outside the Rock Hill-area district he wants to represent. But he says he lives with his wife's grandmother in Rock Hill.
When he filed for office with the York County Democratic Party, Belton listed his primary residence as a home on Rock Hill's Stanley Drive. The home is inside District 49, where Belton is running against John King in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
County tax records show the home belongs to Maggie Burns Nortey, the grandmother of Belton's wife, Tonya Burns Belton. On the deed, Nortey is listed as the owner.
The records also show that Montrio Belton co-owns a home with his wife on Abingdon Way in Fort Mill, outside the district. No one was there when The Herald visited one night this week.
Two neighbors contacted by The Herald said they regularly see Belton at the Fort Mill address.
"He keeps trying to sell this house," neighbor Stuart Chandler said. "He puts a for-sale sign out, and then he takes it back. I think he's trying to move to Rock Hill full time."
District 49 covers much of southern York County and the city of York.
Belton said he tried to sell the Fort Mill home before the campaign but couldn't find a buyer in the tough housing market. A political newcomer, Belton serves as principal of Monroe Middle School in Monroe, N.C., though he plans to resign if elected.
"I've never denied owning the house," he said of the Fort Mill address. "All of my neighbors there know me. My neighbors have seen me come and go. I do go over there to the house, but who owns a property they don't go to?"
Belton, 35, is registered to vote at the Stanley Drive address in Rock Hill, county records show. Belton also showed The Herald his driver's license and bank statements, which list the Stanley Drive address.
Belton initially declined to specify how many nights a week he spends at each home but later said he has stayed in Rock Hill full-time since filing for the election. Belton said he typically sleeps on the couch or in a spare bedroom.
The family hopes to buy its own home in Rock Hill. Belton said he would move more aggressively to do so if he wins the election.
What the law says
State law requires candidates for state office to live in the district at the time of filing. The law defines a person's residence as the place "where he has an intention of returning when he is absent. A person has only one domicile."
Questions about a candidate's residency often surface around election time, said Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the state Election Commission.
"When we get this question, people will say, 'Well, I drive by, and he isn't there,'" Whitmire said. "But that doesn't necesarily mean that is not his residence. Residency is more complicated than simply what you can observe."
Because House races are partisan, candidates must file with their county parties. York County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Watkins said Belton's residency passed muster during the vetting process.
"As far as we know, all of our candidates live where they say they live," said Watkins. "We don't go out and investigate. We take the most up-to-date information on where they are registered to vote."
King lists Rock Hill address
King rents an apartment at the Brittany Place apartment complex in Rock Hill, where he has lived since 2006. King also owns rental properties in Chester but said he rarely visits them.
The candidates are vying to succeed the retiring Bessie Moody-Lawrence.
Belton emphasizes his deep ties to the community-- his wife is a Rock Hill native with many relatives in town. A native of Abbeville, Belton graduated from Winthrop University. He says his two young children eventually will attend school in Rock Hill.
"It's a distraction from the real issues that we should be discussing," he said of the housing issue.