Bucks County judge rules Bensalem motel cannot evict longtime residents
Erica Williams and her four young children — ages 2, 4, 5 and 7 — would be living down the street, if not for a room at the Neshaminy Inn.
For nearly a year, Williams’ four children slept on the two hotel beds while she slept on the floor of their hotel room near Route 1 in Bensalem.
On May 27, however, Williams said she returned home to find her bedroom doors locked. His possessions inside the room were out of reach. Suddenly, she and her children had nowhere to go.
On Wednesday, a judge sided with Williams, her children and other motel residents, saying they could not be suddenly kicked out of their rooms.
And Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey G. Trauger’s decision could have far-reaching implications for hundreds of other homeless people living long-term in area motels, Joshua Goldblum said. , a Southeastern Pennsylvania legal aid attorney.
“Long-term residents of extended-stay hotels are tenants,” Goldblum said. “Even when you’re called a hotel, you can’t exercise sudden evictions. That’s what the judge said in the case.”
Each year, Bucks conducts a census of its homeless population. On January 25, 2022, the county count found 428 homeless. Of those, 29% lived in hotels, the county estimated. One in three homeless people in the county were under 18.
The hotel’s long-time residents are tenants under Pa law.
Trauger was scheduled to sign an order Friday brokered by the Neshaminy Inn and Southeastern Pennsylvania Legal Aid. This order which gives longtime residents of the Neshaminy Inn more rights and protections under the law.
According to Pennsylvania law, a hotel is defined as an inn, motel, house, or cabin where you can sleep for a period of less than 30 days. An occupier becomes a “permanent resident” after 30 days of uninterrupted occupancy of the property, under state law, which means they are protected by the same rules that govern tenants, including the eviction notice.
Still, several residents who have lived at the Neshaminy Inn for several years say they recently received 24-hour departure notices, and a handful said they were suddenly locked in their rooms. That’s when some called Southeastern Pennsylvania Legal Aid for help.
Legal Aid said it filed a preliminary injunction for residents of three bedrooms and residents of at least five other bedrooms have also filed or plan to file motions.
Legal Aid did not know how many people lived in these rooms who might be affected.
The details of Wednesday’s order were largely negotiated during a 40-minute closed session in Trauger’s courtroom office. Late Wednesday, all agreed that residents of at least eight hotel rooms were tenants, not hotel guests.
Others from Neshaminy Inn may soon be added to this list, Trauger said.
With such an agreement, hotel owners would have to take an eviction case to a district judge to terminate the rental agreement and justify the removal of a tenant.
The hotel can always set new rates for overnight stays and guests or tenants could be evicted for non-payment of the bill or violation of other conditions.
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What is it like to live at Neshaminy Inn
The Neshaminy Inn repeatedly declined to comment after visits to the property and letters left with hotel management. The owners of the hotel are listed in Bucks County property records as NI Property LLC, which has an address at residential property in Langhorne.
On Wednesday, Ashwin Panwala identified herself as the owner of the property in court. Panwala did not speak during the hearing and refused to answer questions after leaving the courtroom. His attorney Bryce H. McGuigan, of Begley Carlin & Mandio, said he was not authorized by his client to answer questions.
Scott and Williams allege unsafe and unsanitary conditions in their rooms at the Neshaminy Inn.
Over the past year, they said rates for Neshaminy Inn guests have gone from about $389 to $770 per week, which equates to a rental or mortgage payment of $3,080 per month.
On its website, Neshaminy Inn lists a junior queen room for $58.56 per night, or $1,756 per month. The Neshaminy Inn Jacuzzi Suite costs $90.09 per night, or $2,702 per month.
That’s far more than the average Bucks County resident pays for rent or a monthly mortgage.
According to a 2019 US Census estimate, a homeowner with a mortgage has an average of $2,138 in monthly housing costs, 32% above the national average. The average rent was $1,257 per month.
Meanwhile, Bucks County residents with established disabilities and no work history can receive a Social Security benefit of up to $794 per month. This figure has increased to $841 per month in 2022 and is intended to cover more than housing expenses.
Bensalem sues Neshaminy Inn
Neshaminy Inn describes itself as the “Best Extended Stay Hotel in the Area”.
Bensalem officials have used other words to describe the property. In a November 16 preliminary injunction, township officials alleged that the hotel contained such an “tremendous amount of waste” that it posed a danger to first responders who had to enter the property during emergency calls. .
The budget motel with longtime residents allegedly had a “hole in the second-story balcony, which was covered with wooden planks and supported by temporary wooden scaffolding,” according to the legal petition.
The township wants court permission to enter the property, conduct proper inspections, and eventually close all bed and breakfasts.
Court records suggest Bensalem spent more than two years trying to get the owners to fix the property on Route 1. No judge has yet ruled on the case.
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“The room I was in before had a lot of mold,” Williams said of the unit she shared for six months with children aged two, four, five and seven. “It was a bit like a dungeon. There were no windows.
Williams said she and her children lived in Philadelphia, but the previous owner of that house died and she was forced to live on the streets.
Kelli Scott said she ended up at the Neshaminy Inn after an abusive relationship. “You feel fear and anguish and shame,” Scott said of his experience living at the hotel. “You are supposed to feel a lot of shame when you live like this. You fall into depression, stop caring about your appearance.
“They tell us not to leave our rooms,” Scott said. “I felt like I was living in prison.”
Neshaminy Inn ‘not a solution‘ for the homeless
Goldblum of Legal Aid alleged that the Neshaminy Inn was seeking pandemic-related emergency rental assistance to subsidize rents. If you’re going to apply for emergency rental assistance, then you have to treat residents like tenants, he argued.
However, Goldblum could also be heard outside the courtroom telling Scott and Williams that they needed to find better housing arrangements. “It’s temporary,” he told them. “This is not a solution.”
Without the hotel, Williams said she and her children would live on the streets.
“I was thinking of towing my car to a parking lot,” Scott said. “Maybe I can just live in the parking lot.”