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Tampa Bay area hotel kicks out long-term occupants for lack of payment amid pandemic

Posted at 6:31 PM, Apr 13, 2020

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. -- Two men say they were kicked out of their rooms at a local hotel because they didn’t pay the weekly rate, even though they’ve lived at the hotel for months.

They say the only reason they couldn’t pay is because they were both laid off from their jobs because of the pandemic.

Ira Jenkins has been homeless for two days now.

“It ain’t like I quit my job, and said I refuse to pay my rent. I got laid off because of this virus,” he said.

He’s lived at the Palms Inn hotel near I-275 and Fletcher Avenue since July of last year. He showed ABC Action News his weekly rent receipts Monday. His first payment was for $270 on July 13th, 2019 with the box “for rent” checked off in the corner.

Saturday, he says his belongings were put outside and he was told to leave.

“This is really inhumane, it’s serious,” said Jenkins. “We’ve got a virus going on and you’re just kicking people out on the streets.”

Another man says the same thing happened to him. Tory Watson has lived in the hotel for two years and even lists the hotel’s street address as his own for mail. Watson says he now has no where else to go.

ABC Action News reached out to hotel management — they said they were in fact kicking certain people out for lack of payment but they said rent hadn’t been paid in a long time.

Jenkins showed us his last rent receipt which was for the week of March 28th to April 4th. That means he was only a week behind. Management told us that’s all they had to say and told us not to call back.

The men say they should be covered under Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order which prohibits eviction if someone cant pay rent, essentially freezing rent payments for those who cant afford it right now, until at least mid-May because of the virus. We reached out to the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association who said the men are not considered “tenants” under Florida Law.

“People don’t typically stay at hotels for eight months. They typically don’t stay at hotels for a year,” said Kelly Blum, the Senior Associate for HOA and condominiums at FL Legal Group in Tampa.

Blum says a court would need to determine if the tenancy is transient or not.

“You should think of transient occupancy as your usual hotel stay — you go down to Cabo for a long weekend, you know, that sort of thing,” he said.

He says the court would look at factors like if they get their mail delivered to that address or if either of these men have primary residence elsewhere. Both men say they do not.

He says based on what he’s heard, these men have a case and says they should contact a lawyer.

Click here for the Florida Bar Associations interpretation.

He says if the hotel consulted with an attorney, they would likely say, “Do the right thing, don’t throw these people out they obviously don’t have another place to go.”

On Monday, we asked the Governor if extended stay hotels and motels should be included in the order.

“I’m going to have to confer, that’s a good question I mean when I was doing that I wasn’t necessarily thinking that,” said Governor DeSantis. “I was thinking more in terms of people paying rent, so let me look at that. I don’t want to say yes it does and then it turns out, I just have to review it again.”