Last weekend, a pickup truck pulled up to the Maryland Hotel. A couple of guys filled the truck with Fred Quinn's belongings and told him they were putting them in storage. Quinn's hearing aid, unfortunately, got thrown in with everything else.
Then another truck pulled up and took the disabled 64-year-old off to the Bell Hotel on K Street where he was told he could stay a week-courtesy of the owners of the Maryland Hotel.
The problem is that Quinn, who suffers from arthritis and a potentially crippling vascular disease, neither wanted to leave the Maryland nor was he legally obligated to. As CityBeat reported last week, tenants of the downtown single-room-occupancy hotel, most of whom are elderly, disabled or low-income, were served 30-day eviction notices on Dec. 30 so that the hotel's new owners can spend the next year converting it into a boutique hotel. The deadline for residents to vacate was Jan. 29.
However, that morning, Judge Ronald Prager ordered the eviction delayed until the following Monday. On Feb. 3, Prager further extended the eviction deadline to Feb. 18, when he'll decide the legality of a city law that requires residents of SROs be given 90 days to move out. Lawyers for 630 F Street, the company that purchased the hotel last spring, say state law is on their side-when eviction notices went out, a 30-day notice was legal. Two days after the notices were served, state law changed to 60 days' notice.
Normally, state law overrides local law, which, in this case, renders the city's 90-day SRO eviction rule meaningless. However, as Prager preliminarily ruled last week, when state law has the potential to cause “irreparable harm” to a person, local law prevails.
As of Monday, 20 tenants from the Maryland's original 206 were still unable to find an affordable, decent place to live. As for Fred Quinn, when his week at the Bell Hotel was up, he moved into the Hotel Heritage, where for $480 a month he shares a large dorm-style room with 18 other men. Quinn said he gets by on $750 a month.
Quinn's friend and fellow Maryland resident Maryann Pell, who, as CityBeat reported last week, was in the hospital on Jan. 29, suffering from liver disease, has since been moved into a nursing home. Pell's room has been bolted shut by the hotel's manager and the key lock is jammed with pieces of metal. Through a crack in the doorway, one can see that her room is still filled with her belongings.
As for the 20 remaining tenants, they claim hotel management is making their lives as difficult as possible even though they've paid rent through Feb. 18, as mandated by Prager. Tenants reported that between Jan. 29 and Feb. 10, none of the hotel's trash bins had been emptied and closets on each floor that serve as storage for the bins were piled eight feet high with trash. On Monday, two closets had been cleaned out, but a third was bolted shut and emitted a stench, suggesting it had become the de facto trash bin. Most of the remaining residents had sprinkled a powdered insect repellants in their doorways to ward off cockroaches.
Cory Briggs, part of a six-person pro bono legal team representing the tenants, said that if a judge rules in favor of the Maryland's owners, tenants who stay past Feb. 18 will be cited for breaking the law, which Briggs said could impede their attempts to find decent housing. Currently, all remaining tenants say that they are looking for new places to live. San Diego's epidemic high rent and the tenants' need to be near public transportation are making that a tough job.