People living at extended-stay hotels won protection from informal, on-the-spot eviction this week, when the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled they should legally be recognized as residents, not guests, and, thus, are covered by landlord-tenant law.

The March 7 decision found that Efficiency Lodge in south DeKalb County illegally kicked out three tenants in 2020 who had fallen behind on rent, because the hotel was actually their landlord, as first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Legal Aid Society attorney Lindsey Siegel, who represented the former tenants, told Atlanta Civic Circle that, as rent and home prices spike, extended-stay hotels offer much-needed housing for low-income people. Consequently, the ruling  has far-reaching implications.

“This ruling is not just about Efficiency Lodge,” Siegal said, adding that there are nearly 26,000 extended-stay units in the five-county metro Atlanta area alone. “It applies to all extended-stay hotels in Georgia. These are businesses that profit by renting permanent and semi-permanent housing to the lowest income families.”

Siegel successfully argued that her clients and other tenants make extended-stay hotels their permanent homes by moving in their belongings, receiving mail, and having their kids picked up by the school bus, among other actions.

Efficiency Lodge’s legal team, led by former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes — whose brother Ray Barnes owns the hotel chain — had argued that its renters entered into an innkeeper-guest agreement, making them ineligible for formal tenant protections. 

But Seigel pointed to a Georgia law that requires innkeepers to pay a hotel occupancy tax only for stays shorter than 90 days. Her clients had resided at Efficiency Lodge for far longer. 

DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Stacey Hydrick agreed with Atlanta Legal Aid in a January 2021 ruling. Barnes’ client appealed, contending that it shouldn’t matter whether a hotel stay is taxed to be considered a hotel stay.

“Just the fact that a potato that’s bought at the grocery store is not subject to tax does not mean it’s not a potato,” Barnes argued before the Court of Appeals in August. Barnes did not respond to requests for comment, but he told the AJC that Efficiency Lodge will file an appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court. 

Siegel said she’s confident the Supreme Court will uphold the appellate ruling. “The Court of Appeals thoroughly analyzed every argument Efficiency Lodge made and found that it is a landlord in relation to our clients,” she said.

That would mean people who make extended-stay hotels their homes will be covered by landlord-tenant laws like any other renter — and if Efficiency Lodge or another extended-stay hotel wanted to kick someone out for nonpayment of rent, they’d need to go through a formal eviction-filing process. 

If the Supreme Court agrees with the lower courts, Siegal anticipates a trial to determine the damages due her clients from Efficiency Lodge’s now unlawful evictions.

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