Delay on weekly rent and fear of eviction – finance & commerce

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Demetress Malone returned to her weekly rental one day in early September to find that the door to her apartment had been pulled off its hinges and the power had been cut off.

Since losing his job as a cook in March when the pandemic began, Malone had struggled to pay the rent of $ 200 per week. Now, the owner of Lodge Atlanta in Doraville, Georgia, where he had lived since September 2019, was trying to chase him away. It wasn’t until after Malone sued the owner, the Brea & Lord Investment Group, to avoid being evicted that the owner backed down and replaced the door.

“When the door was gone I couldn’t sleep,” said Malone, 49. An attorney for Lodge Atlanta declined to comment.

Low-budget weekly rental units – furnished units with limited cooking facilities that typically rent for around $ 200 per week – are often the accommodation of last resort for people on government assistance or those living in poverty. ‘one paycheck to another. They usually can’t qualify for more traditional apartments because they have a recent eviction on their credit history or don’t have the money saved for a security deposit. Weekly rental stays can last for months or even years. Few of these residents can afford to hire a lawyer if they face an eviction.

In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed a four-month eviction moratorium to prevent landlords from firing tenants who present a signed statement saying they can’t pay rent due to the pandemic. But the moratorium has created confusion over weekly rentals, which fall into a gray area of ​​the housing market as they function as temporary apartments but are often permitted as motels – which are technically exempt from the moratorium.

Taking advantage of the confusion, some owners of weekly rental housing are not waiting for the moratorium to expire at the end of the year to kick out people who cannot pay the rent.

“They’re going to lock you up,” said Lynetrice Preston, 38, a mother of two teenage girls who also cares for a 2-year-old grandchild. “Lock your doors if you can’t pay the rent, and they won’t let you come in and get your things if you’re not there. “

Preston said she found herself in this situation briefly over the summer after losing her job in a valet service and owed more than $ 1,000 in rent to the owners of Efficiency Lodge in Decatur, Ga. . The motel is partly owned by a brother of Roy Barnes, a former governor of the state. She regained access to her accommodation after her parents helped her pay part of the overdue rent, and she is now suing the owners of the lodge to avoid being evicted.

Although Efficiency Lodge qualifies itself as a motel, only the courts can generally determine whether its residents are guests or renters. In Malone’s case, for example, the judge said he was a tenant due to his time living at Lodge Atlanta, and last month issued a temporary injunction allowing him to stay in the accommodation for the time being. . “The threat of immediate homelessness and health consequences for the plaintiff far outweighs the threat to the defendants,” wrote Judge Alan C. Harvey of the DeKalb County Superior Court.

In general, the evictions had real health consequences for tenants and families during the pandemic. A recent study found that the lifting of moratoriums on state evictions from March to September resulted in an additional 10,700 deaths in 27 states from COVID-19. And unless Congress expands it or provides funds for rent assistance – a topic currently being debated on Capitol Hill – there could be a wave of evictions in the housing market when the moratorium ends.

Court decisions on the applicability of the moratorium to weekly rentals have varied by state. A judge in Orlando, Florida, for example, ruled in November that the operator of the Lake Inn motel could evict three people, but postponed the effective date of the order to January 1. Housing attorneys said some rental operators were trying to bypass the courthouse. telling residents that the moratorium did not apply to them – putting the onus on residents to go to court to keep their homes.

“The vast majority of weekly rental evictions never see the light of a courtroom,” said Bailey Bortolin, director of statewide outreach and policy for the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, a non-profit organization that provides free legal aid to eligible residents.

On Monday, Nevada tenants – including some in weekly rentals – were granted a stay until the end of March when Gov. Steve Sisolak imposed a new moratorium on state evictions for anything other than lease violations related to nuisance.

Before Nevada’s new moratorium was imposed, a weekly rental company – the Siegel Group – was particularly prolific, filing 328 eviction actions in Nevada and Arizona since the CDC’s moratorium took effect, according to the Private. Equity Stakeholder Project, a consumer advocacy group. The Siegel Group, a private company that operates weekly rentals and “flexible stay apartments” under the name Siegel Select and Siegel Suites, has approximately 12,000 such units in nine southern and southwestern states. .

On its website, Siegel Suites boasts of being a leader in providing “short-term, long-term or forever” apartments and claims that “bad credit is OK”.

Jamie Armstrong, 25, said she ended up in a Siegel Suites in Reno, Nevada, in November 2019, shortly after leaving the house she shared with the father of her 18-year-old daughter. month. Armstrong said the sink was leaking in his unit, that there were cockroaches, and the stove only worked occasionally. Things took a turn for the worse in March, after she lost her job as a cocktail waitress at a casino and couldn’t pay the weekly rent of around $ 300.

“For a while, they would wake me up and knock on the door every day,” Armstrong said. “Once the manager entered the room without permission because I was not answering the door. She said management also withheld her mail and cut off the free Wi-Fi connection at her unit.

Armstrong said rental managers only backed down after they started working with a local housing lawyer around the time the CDC’s moratorium went into effect. Armstrong, who recently got a warehouse job for an online grocery delivery service and signed a lease for a two-bedroom apartment, plans to vacate his unit at the end of the month.

Michael Crandall, senior vice president of Siegel, said in a statement that the company is “committed to doing what we can to help those in need during this pandemic.” But, he added, “evictions are filed if necessary due to unregistered guests, illegal squatters, property damage, criminal activity and other conditions causing a dangerous environment.”

Judges have ruled in Siegel’s favor in more than 220 of the eviction actions he has filed since September in Nevada and Arizona, according to an analysis by the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, the advocacy group. Meanwhile, Budget Suites of America, owned by billionaire businessman Robert Bigelow, has filed at least 46 eviction actions in Texas and Arizona and obtained judgments in its favor in half of those cases. Budget Suites did not respond to a request for comment.

Lawyers for Atlanta Legal Aid, who help Malone keep his residence, also represent Preston in his legal battle with Efficiency Lodge, which operates 13 similar properties in Georgia and Florida. Preston, who pays around $ 200 a week for her accommodation, said she paid rent to landlords when she could. This month, she got a job at a nearby chicken restaurant, but still worries that the owners are still trying to force her to leave because of the unpaid rent that has built up since the summer.

Barnes, the former governor of Georgia whose brother Ray is one of the owners of Efficiency Lodge and who defends it in court, said he was not aware of complaints from residents of any of the dozens of ‘other weekly rentals of the company. He said the company had sent notices to residents specifically stating that Efficiency Lodge was not an owner.

Barnes said the company was ready to work with struggling residents, but within reason.

“There are mortgages to pay. There are employees to pay, ”Barnes said. “We are happy to work with them. You just can’t live there for free.

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About Nereida Nystrom

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