General contractor says Budgetel Inn may be closed 3-4 months for mandated repairs
Scores of families in Bartow County are now homeless following the indefinite suspension of an extended-stay motel’s permit Tuesday.
Upwards of 200 people were informed by the management of the Budgetel Inn at 35 Carson Loop that they had 24 hours to vacate the premises following a failed Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) inspection.
According to DPH documentation, the motel was cited for “unapproved cooking equipment,” “infestation of roaches and flies” and “furnishings not being kept up.”
By 4 p.m., Bartow County Sheriff’s Office deputies and code enforcement vehicles were already on the property.
The displaced includes dozens of young children, many of them students attending Bartow County Schools.
“They’re not going to have anywhere to go, they’re not going to be able to feed their kids,” said Isabella Bohannan, a 17-year-old resident who has lived at the motel with her parents for the last four months.
She said she returned from GED classes only to find a large throng of residents assembled outside the motel office.
“All of a sudden, I hear that we’re all getting kicked out,” she said. “I just moved into a new room, I have nowhere to go. Me and my mom and my dad have nowhere to go, my mom’s disabled, we have no car. Where are we going to walk to?”
The man who filed the permit suspension notice, Victor Abercrombie, told The Daily Tribune News that during an inspection that morning, several previously discussed violations were observed.
“They had not been met or corrected,” he said. “They were pretty serious violations, fire hazards, things that did warrant us to suspend the permit.”
Abercrombie said there is no timetable in place for when the suspension will be lifted.
“That depends on when the owner gets all of the violations corrected,” he said. “This doesn’t happen often, so it really depends on how fast do you want this to work? We’re going to get with him, he’s going to come up with a plan and we’ll work around what he thinks.”
While the 24-hour eviction notice may seem abrupt, Abercrombie said that is indeed “standard” procedure during such permit suspensions.
“When something like this happens, a lot of people say ‘Why can’t you give more time?’” he said. “Well, the reason why we suspended the permit is due to some serious violations, therefore, that means that we don’t want people in these conditions any longer than what needs to be.”
DPH officials, he said, are working with various “agencies” to see what kinds of resources can be provided to the displaced.
“We went room to room and found out which families and individuals have places to go, and the ones that don’t, we’re trying to see what is out there right now so that we know before tomorrow gets here, hopefully there’s a plan in place. We don’t want to see anybody homeless, that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing right now.”
Yet making hundreds of people homeless is precisely what the DPH is doing, said 74-year-old resident Robert Overstreet, who has lived at the motel for the last seven months.
“There’s over 200 people here being evicted,” he said. “I’ve been on the phone for over an hour calling different places. … I’ve already paid my rent here, they’ve got my money.”
On such short notice, Overstreet said he’s been unable to find any immediately available units for below $1,200 a month.
A military veteran, Overstreet requires a motorized cart for mobility. He said he’s fearful that he may lose all of his personal property during the eviction process.
“This is not right, by anybody’s book of standards,” he said. “I am very tempted right at the moment to just park my ass in that doorway and defy them to move me. Either arrest me or move me to another apartment.”
According to the DPH documentation, the owner/authorized agent of the motel is Sri Bollepalli.
Numerous residents told The Daily Tribune News the management has refused to give them refunds for payments made a week — and in some cases, months — in advance.
“I’ve already asked a whole bunch of families around here with kids, they don’t know where they’re going,” Bohannan said. “And if they’re not getting their refunds, how are they going to pay for somewhere to go?”
John Wilson, 44, is one of the many residents who says he was denied a refund by the operators of the motel.
“Somebody needs to call the governor out here, because of the way they were running the newspeople off and everything,” the Budgetel resident of two months said. “I’ve got two children, and they won’t even help get my refunds back, and I think it’s wrong.”
Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor did not respond to requests for comments before press time.
Don Liotta, 54, has worked as a general contractor at the extended-stay motel for several months.
“The owner bought a building that was not compliant and he didn’t know it,” he said. “The County came in after a big drug bust and determined what needed to be done to bring this building into compliancy … we’ve been trying to do a little bit here and there, as the owner is able to regain capital to be able to put it toward this project.”
According to Bartow County Board of Assessors data, the 23,764-square foot motel was originally built in 1972. The property, which sits on about 5.6 acres, currently has a 2019 fair market value of $1.65 million.
Renovations, Liotta said, have already gotten underway on the first 40 rooms. He said he anticipates between 3-4 months before the entire motel is brought up to code.
“A portion of it could be done in as little as 60 days,” he said. “I believe we could do enough to get it back open again during that period of time. I’ve got a meeting with the State fire marshal on Thursday, which will define the scope better.”
Liotta said it crushes him to watch so many people lose their residences.
“Right now, we’re scurrying to try to find places for them to go,” he said. “We have more kids than can be taken in right now, we have more families and more people of low-income levels than the community can support, so I believe some of them might be on the street.”
Abercrombie could not provide an exact number of people displaced by the suspension. Representatives of the motel management declined a request to speak to The Daily Tribune News.
“Sure, it’s an extended-stay motel, but this is a community,” Overstreet said. “People that have been here a while, they know each other, it’s a very large family … for the law to come in and mandatorily evict this many people on less than 24-hour notice, when nobody knew it was coming, that has to be illegal.”
After months of work on the motel, Liotta said he feels “helpless” in the wake of its closure.
“We’ve done so much to try to touch and build, and we’ve changed the culture here,” he said. “To see it all go to waste, and everybody be displaced … one time during the summertime, we had 80 kids on our day-to-day feeding program. And now all of that is gone.”