TARRANT COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) – While the CDC eviction moratorium has helped many Texans stay in their homes, some of those struggling the most find themselves in legal limbo – faced with being homeless.
For the growing number of Americans living in motels, legal experts say it’s unclear whether the federal order protects them.
Rhonda Devalcourt had been living at a motel in Euless for months when she fell behind on her payment and was told to leave.
“This just kind of uprooted us and knocked us off our feet,” Devalcourt said. “We were not just guests. We were established residents.”
When the pandemic hit, Devalcourt lost her job as a limo driver. With her apartment lease up and uncertain about future employment, she moved into a Motel 6 in Euless.
Devalcourt said she was earning enough money to cover her motel stay by working as a ride-share driver until she was hit with an unexpected medical bill and then a car repair bill.
“When it rains, it pours,” she said. “One day you are doing great, the next you can lose everything.”
The CDC moratorium called for a temporary halt on residential evictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The order does not cover “any hotel, motel, or other guest house rented to a temporary guest.”
However, legal experts say some who occupy motels for an extended amount of time are no longer consider guests under the law, rather they become tenants.
The legal difference between a guest and a tenants depends on several factors, including how long they’ve stayed there, the frequency of their payments, and whether the occupant receives mail at the address.
But attorney K’Lisha Rutledge with Legal Aid of Northwest Texas said the distinction is not clearly spelled out in the law.
“It’s definitely on a case by case basis,” she said. “I know people hate the attorney answer of depends but it really depends.”
In a statement from Motel 6, a hotel spokesperson said, “Motel 6 complies with all state and local laws including those that prevent evictions during the pandemic, and we try to provide our customers with access to local resources whenever possible. As this is an independently owned franchise we cannot speak to the specifics related to this guest, but we are working with the owner at this location to look into this matter further.”
Devalcourt had been staying at the motel in Euless for more than 60 days before she feel behind her payment by $115. She also was not being charged the guest tax and had her mail delivered to the motel.
If Devalcourt takes it to court and seeks a writ of reentry, the decision on whether she’s tenant or guest will come down to a judge’s interpretation.
In the meantime, Devalcourt is living at another nearby hotel with her adult daughter – hoping her fortunes turn around.
Links to resources:
Legal Aid of Northwest Texas (1-888-529-5277, M-F)