JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – People staying at America’s Best Inn on Dix Ellis Trail in the Baymeadows Center area received notice that they had to vacate the property by Friday afternoon due to renovations, but a now-former manager said residents have until Monday to leave.
One of the notices obtained by News4JAX with a date of April 21, 2022, shows that residents were told to vacate by 3 p.m. Friday, April 22, 2022. Residents were confused after being caught off guard by the letters on their doors and were rushing to find somewhere else to live. But, on Friday, the former manager told News4JAX that they can stay through the weekend.
The letters come after documented safety issues, as well as recent violence.
On Tuesday, News4JAX learned that residents were forced to move out of Building No. 1, which had been deemed unsafe and condemned. An inspector found damage to the second floor landing between two rooms, according to a report, which also showed there were large cracks seen in concrete flooring that extend across the building. Management for American’s Best Inn told News4JAX that it was moving people living in Building No. 1 to the other two buildings and that the city was giving them assistance to move to another location.
On Wednesday, police were called to the inn after a 10-year-old girl was wounded in a shooting.
News4JAX looked at records from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, finding there have been 826 calls for service since Jan. 1, 2021, to the extended stay motel.
Now, according to the messages that residents received, all residents must move out of the extended stay hotel. A city councilman said the city didn’t mandate the building be cleared. The notices say it’s for renovations and signed by management.
Mary DeVries, housing unit division chief for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA), said she can’t speak to the intent of the landlord but said these actions don’t comply with Florida law.
“If the landlord does give proper notice, which in my mind it hasn’t, at that point, then the families who are in a week-to-week or month-to-month situation, then the landlord may be within the rights to ask them to leave, but first they have to give proper notice,” DeVries said. “The desire to carry out renovations generally isn’t a reason to terminate a tenancy with a 24-hour notice.”
News4JAX on Friday spoke with the now-former manager of the property, who did not wish to speak on camera. She said all 80 rooms in the other two buildings were filled with people. She said the people staying at the motel -- some of whom pay anywhere between $900 to $1,200 a month -- have until Monday to get out.
News4JAX asked her about the renovations that were mentioned in the notes, and she said she didn’t know anything about renovations happening to the property. She said the owner released the management company for the motel on Thursday.
The former manager said that the motel is registered as an extended stay and that the owner allowed the residency. Some people told News4JAX that they already paid their rent for the month, but the former manager said she doesn’t think they’ll be reimbursed.
Outrage from tenants
On Friday, some people packed their bags and left voluntarily while others sat around. Some of them say it’s going to take more than a piece of paper to get them to leave.
“We didn’t think it was going to happen,” said resident Ashely Whitehead, who has lived at America’s Best Inn with her daughter for nine months and received the letter. “There’s no renovations. There’s none.”
Some tenants like Whitehead have been at America’s Best Inn on Dix Ellis Trail with their families for months -- others even years.
“This is the only place we can afford. Other places, we can’t afford. It’s too expensive,” Whitehead said.
Resident David Gibson has lived at the motel for more than a year. He said that he didn’t know what he was going to do and that he didn’t think the letter sent out was legal.
“Stuck is an appropriate word I think,” Gibson said.
John Jackson said he’s a father to small toddlers, and he said he’s being told to leave after pre-paying $1,400 for rent.
“Can’t get that money back,” he told News4JAX. He said he hasn’t been able to get ahold of anyone in management.
Penny and David Gibson, who have been living in the motel for a year, said the same.
As residents worry about what’s next, Jewish Family and Community Services is helping six families with children who attend a nearby school.
Colleen Rodriguez, CEO of Jewish Family and Community Services, said this isn’t a good look for Jacksonville businesses.
“It’s concerning. It says we don’t care about our families, we don’t care about our people that live here. The management is getting paid, these people have paid, so I don’t know what they are doing with the money. They are not keeping the property, obviously. The city’s hands are tied. They can’t have people living in unsafe places. I totally understand the city’s perspective on this. But there’s got to be better planning. If you have an issue with the adults and the choices they’ve made, what can I say about that?” Rodriguez said. “But there are children that are involved, several children, that are wanting to go to school, needing to go to school, have the right to be safe and be in a safe place and get an education.”
JALA recommends these people call the police because DeVries says it’s the police who would tell the landlord to follow the law. JALA says that if that doesn’t work, a tenant can file an action in court and ask to restrict the landlord from carrying out an illegal eviction.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said tenants with nowhere to go should reach out to a local organization called Changing Homelessness, which can be reached at 904-354-1100.
The former manager gave News4JAX the name Samuel Bonnardel, who’s listed as the founder of Rore Investment Group that owns America’s Best Inn in Jacksonville and multiple other motels and hotels in the city, some of which were permanently shut down. News4JAX tried calling numbers for him several times and left messages.
A News4Jax viewer said his location on Airport Road told people on Sunday that they had to be out by Monday, and the manager said the people at the Airport Road motel moved to the Dix Ellis Trail motel.
The investment group’s website says its reputation is built on creating value by repositioning underutilized, mismanaged and/or underperforming properties and its strategy is to acquire underperforming income-producing assets that offer medium- to longer-term appreciation and revenue growth.
The former manager said the last time the owner was at the motel on Dix Ellis Trail was Wednesday when the shooting happened.