DECATUR, Ga. – The owners of an Atlanta area housing site are illegally throwing out residents struggling to make ends meet amid the coronavirus pandemic and have failed to address roaches, bed bugs and other problems in those living accommodations, protesters and a lawsuit say.
About two dozen former residents of the Efficiency Lodge in DeKalb County and others demonstrated Wednesday across from the suburban Atlanta complex. The protest came as millions of Americans are struggling amid the lingering outbreak to make rent or other lodging payments that keep them off the streets.
Some on Wednesday carried signs accusing the owners of being slumlords. One woman shouted through a bullhorn, and some raised clenched fists.
“They’re not willing to do anything to bring this property up to par in a livable status for these tenants,” said Stephanie Williams, a former resident. Williams said she was evicted in March, and eleven families were recently forced to leave the property.
The Trump administration has issued a national moratorium on evictions in a bid to provide a measure of relief to those struggling. But critics warn that the moratorium will only delay a wave of crushing debt and homelessness without additional relief.
Yet the moratorium doesn’t apply to motels and hotels, and some owners have argued they fall in that category though their properties function as permanent housing, said Viraj Parmar, managing attorney of the Housing Court Assistance Center, a free legal clinic that helps residents in the Atlanta area fight evictions.
Parmar said extended stay properties have become a more vital source of housing during the pandemic. “So many people are struggling. So many people are getting evicted, and that’s their only option,” he said.
Federal, state and local governments have approved eviction moratoriums during the course of the pandemic for many renters, but those protections are expiring rapidly.
A woman who answered the phone at the lodge in DeKalb County said no one was available to talk and she didn’t have a number for a corporate office. She declined to give her name.
A man who answered the phone at another number for Efficiency Lodge hung up.
Efficiency Lodge has more than a dozen properties in Georgia and Florida and offers “cost-efficient accommodations," according to its website. The website says it has nightly and weekly lodging options.
A lawsuit filed last week in Dekalb County includes two plaintiffs who say they have lived there for years.
The lodge has forced dozens of residents to leave in recent weeks without filing required eviction cases in court, the lawsuit alleges. On one occasion, a private security guard carried a rifle and pointed it at residents as he went door to door to get them out, the lawsuit also alleged.
The suit seeks unspecified damages and a court order recognizing the residents as tenants.
DeKalb County officials found more than 300 code violations at the lodge in July 2018 and another 30 violations in January, county spokesman Quinn Hudson said in an email. He said the problems included mold, trash and live roaches.
Valencia Gasper, another resident evicted from the lodge, said when she lived there with her three daughters, there were no lights for one month.
"The only thing working in this room was the stove and the air conditioning,” she said.
Thanawala reported from Atlanta.