published Friday, March 4th, 2011

More evictions at hotel

  • photo
    The billboard for the Town and Country Inn stands over the hotel in Chattanooga. Some of the residents of Town and Country perform chores for the hotel in exchange for rent. Now many are being forced to leave.
    Photo by Jenna Walker /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

New owners at Town & Country Inn have issued another round of eviction notices, telling longtime tenants at the extended-stay hotel to get out within the week.

Several residents, who claim to be up to date on rent payments, said one of the new owners from Florida, Jeff McFarland, is trying to clean house at the hotel that once let homeless people work in exchange for rooms.

“They are trying to get rid of the undesirables,” said Joe Fason, who lived and worked at Town & Country on East 23rd Street for six years and is being evicted.

Fason, who said he can’t work because of chronic shaking and respiratory problems, will move to federally subsidized housing at Patten Towers on 11th Street, but most of the residents, who came to Town & Country as a last resort, could go back onto the streets.

“[McFarland] is making a lot of people with disabilities leave because they are in their rooms all day using electricity, using the television,” Fason said.

Repeated attempts to reach McFarland were unsuccessful.

Town & Country was sold last Thursday after a six-month federal labor investigation put the hotel’s treatment of employees in the limelight.

The U.S. Department of Labor is looking into whether the hotel’s previous owners, David and Steven Bernstein, owe dozens of former employees back wages.

Residents who doubled as employees for years say they worked between 40 and 80 hours a week for rooms advertised for $129 a week. Many say they never received a single paycheck from the hotel.

Nearly 15 employees were fired by Bernstein last week and told to make plans to leave the property because new owners were coming on site.

In November, Bernstein told employees they could continue to live at the hotel only if they were willing to volunteer their work and prepare the hotel, which he said was failing financially, for sale.

“We weren’t getting paid, so we don’t have a lot of options,” said Paul Bruce, who lived and worked at Town & Country for 21⁄2 half years. “We don’t have any money. Just to kick us to the curb with no options, it’s bad. They weren’t willing to work with us at all.”

A ministry housed inside Town & Country called Grace in Action brought many homeless people to the hotel and asked churches to pay for their first few weeks at the facility.

Grace in Action has been given one month to leave the property and clean out more than seven rooms the ministry had used for storage and meetings, said Tommy Peak, the ministry’s founder.

Legally, it’s hard to know whether Town & Country tenants are protected under Tennessee’s landlord-tenant law and should be given more time to evict, said Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Clarence Shattuck.

Under that law, landlords are required to give a 10-day notice to weekly renters and a 30-day notice to monthly renters. But written leases could give a landlord the right to evict on shorter notice if the renter is behind in payments, he said.

“This is a unique situation,” Shattuck said. “Just because you call it a hotel doesn’t mean it’s a hotel. This is, in effect, an apartment complex. It wouldn’t be difficult for a judge to rule that someone should be given a longer period of time.”

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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darknessfalls said...

StrongI AGREE WITH WHAT PAUL BRUCE & JOE FASON SAID. WHEN THEY SAID THEY WERE'T GIVING THE PEOPLE AT THAT PLACE ENOUGH TIME.. THIS SITUATION I'M SURE HAS PUT ALOT OF STRAIN & STRESS ON THESE PEOPLE MORE THAN WHAT THEY HAD ALREADY. NOW THEY'VE GOT TO WORRY ABOUT TRYING TO FIND A PLACE TO GO WITH NO MONEY OR JOBS TO DO EITHER WITH. I THINK THIS IS WRONG AND I BELIEVE THAT THE CITY SHOULD TAKE NOTE OF WHATS BEING SAID BY THESE PEOPLE WHEN THEIR TELLING THIS PAPER THEY WORKED FOR THEIR ROOMS. CAUSE I BELIEVE THAT THIS IS A TENANT/LANDLORD SITUATION. AND I THINK THESE PEOLE SHOULD BE GIVEN MORE IMETO FIND JOBS AND GET A PAYCHECK SO THEY CAN FIND HOUSING OR WHATNOT. THIS MCFARLAND PERSON SOUNDS AS HEARTLESS AS THEY COME IN MY OPINION.... I MEAN THESE PEOLPE WORKED LONG HOURS WHICH I BELIEVE WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH TO PAY FOR THEIR ROOMS AND THEN SOME!!!!!! WHAT THESE NEW OWNERS ARE DOING IS NOT FAIR TO THESE PEOPLE WHO I'M SURE ARE JUST LIKE EVERY ONE ELSE TRYING TO MAKE IT IN THIS WORLD.... THESE FOLKS AT THIS PLACE ARE BEINGTHROWN TO THE CURB WITH NO MONEY AND NO PLACE TO GO.. WHAT ARE THEY SUPPOSE TO DO?? WHERE ARE THEY SUPPOSE TO GO? AND HOW ARE THEY SUPPOSE TO GET THEIR.? CAUSE I'M SURE ALOT OF THEM DON'T HAVE MEANS 0F TRANSPORTATION? SO WHAT ARE THESE FOLKS SUPPOSE TO DO? AND I'M SURE ALOT OF THEM ARE NOT FROM HERE AND DON'T HAVE ANY FAMILY HERE TO TURN TO FOR HELP??? I'M SURE THAT SOME OF THEM ARE NOT FAMILIER WITH THIS TOWN... SO HOW ARE THEY SUPPOSE TO FIND THEIR WAY AROUND TO LOOK FOR JOBS MUCH LESS HOUSING WITH NO INCOME OR TRANSPORTATION???? THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS BURNING IN MY MIND AT THIS POINT? AND I'M SURE SOME OF THESE PEOPLE CANNOT SURVIVE ON THE STREETS.. AND I'M GUESSING THAT SOME OF THESE PEOPLE HAVE DISABILITIES THAT MAKE THEM UNABLE TO WORK... SO HERE'S MY QUESTION...... WHAT ARE THESE FOLKS SUPPOSE TO DO WITH THIS SITUATION THEY HAVE BEEN FORCED INTO???? THE RESOURSES FOR THE HOMELESS IS LIMITED. AND THIS TO ME IS SAD BECAUSE I'M SURE THAT ALOT OF THESE PEOPLE HAVE REASONS OTHER THAN DRUGS OR ALCOHOL FOR BEING HOMELESS... LIKE JOB LOSS.... I'M SURE ALOT OF THEM CAME HERE TO START OVER AND MAKE A FRESH START SOME PLACE NEW. BUT IT SEEMS TO ME THIS PLACE LIKE SO MANY OTHERS JUST DON'T CARE ABOUT THE PEOPLE REGUARDLESS OF THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES OF WHAT BROUGHT THEM HERE. IT SEEMS TO ME THIS PLACE IS BEING PREJUDICE AGAINST POOR & HOMELESS PEOPLE!!!!! AND THIS IS WRONG UNDER OUR CONSTUTITIONAL RIGHTS!!!! I'M SURE THAT THEIR IS MORE STORIES THAT NEED TO BE HERD. THESE PEOPLE ARE HUMAN BEINGS REGUARDLESS OF THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES AND DESERVE TO BE TREATED AS SUCH......

March 4, 2011 at 1:15 p.m.
ibelieveinhim said...

I have been to this place and have stayed there and from first hand experience I can say that the right thing is being done for the most part. McFarland is doing what he has to do to start new with his new hotel. That place is a den for drugs and prostitutes. The people who "worked" for their rooms were mostly involved in all kinds of drugs and never really worked just did what they absolutely HAD to do and avoided any REAL work that needed to be done. There were VERY few who were actually honest and were doing the right things to make a better life for themselves and to them I hope and pray all the very best things life has to offer. As for this so called "ministry" that is at the very best a joke. The real blessing in all this is that these crooks are having to find another place to find slaves for their personal gain. God willing this will never happen. It is scary to think that people really believe the things that come out of their mouths. They don't really help with the things they say they do mostly Penny just harps and puts people down when they are already in a very bad place in their lives and kind of breaks their spirit when they don't agree with everything she believes in. Her husband on the other hand really seems to care about the people who come to them for help but if the rumours are to be believed he has even gotten comfort elsewhere because she is so overbearing. How can these so called "christians" help others get their lives back on track when they can't get their own stuff together. I say good luck to the new owner and hope that people realize that there is a fine line between being helpful and being a good business man. And to all of the really good people who have worked hard and don't deserve to be put out, good luck and God bless remember what He says Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" If you are really trying to do the right thing it WILL happen for you. Last but not least I pray for Grace In Action and hope that they find the one and true way to God and have Him fill their hearts. It is one thing to talk all the right things but it is a whole other to walk in the light of the Lord. He knows your REAL heart. I know I can sleep every night when my day is done. I may not have been perfect and I never will be but I know what is in my heart and that is JESUS CHRIST MY SAVIOR.

June 1, 2011 at 1:16 a.m.
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