ST. PETERSBURG — Their voices choked as they spoke of hardships under the new Mosley Motel owners now forcing them out in less than a week.
"Me and my three kids have nowhere to go," said Betty Luke, 23, pregnant with her fourth child, to Pinellas County Judge Lorraine Kelly during a hearing Friday to delay the evictions.
Madeline Barona, 65, spoke of heart problems and harsh treatment when she asked a motel employee to call an ambulance.
"We're not paying for it," Barona said she was told.
"I didn't ask them to pay for it. I have insurance," she told the judge.
Theirs were among the stories a half-dozen residents of the troubled Mosley Motel at 401 34th St. N told the judge Friday as they sought time to find "adequate and affordable housing."
Altis Cardinal Storage of Miami, which acquired the foreclosed motel this summer, has given residents until Sept. 16 to leave.
But with a week to go before the deadline, residents, some of whom have lived at the Mosley for as long as 12 years, encountered another obstacle Friday. Kelly said their request must be heard in circuit court. No date has been set for that hearing.
The question of jurisdiction had been raised Thursday by Altis lawyer Patrick Ayers. He argued that residents were asked to leave not because of typical landlord-tenant issues such as nonpayment of rent. Instead it is because of the foreclosure and decision to shut the motel down.
Despite the apparent setback, the residents' lawyer, Tamara Felton-Howard, is hoping for a settlement before the case gets to circuit court. She said she and Altis are discussing a deal that would let her clients remain at the motel until Oct. 31.
"We haven't reached one yet, but it's not out of the question," Altis spokesperson Leslie Valentin said.
The impending eviction is just the latest in a number of yearslong problems that have affected the poor and disabled, singles, couples and families with young children who make the Mosley their home. The property has a reputation for crime and has been fined thousands of dollars by St. Petersburg's nuisance abatement board.
Friday, though, a sympathetic Kelly gave residents a chance to talk about their lives at the motel, whose former management, they said, embraced them like family.
"It seems that the people who are running it now have no compassion for anyone," said Barona, who lives with her brother, Jerome Konik, 63.
"I have a rat in my air conditioner that is dead and they won't remove it."
Julie Lythgoe, 52, who has lived at the property for nearly two years and plays the role of den mother, told the judge that the Wi-Fi has been disconnected, so residents can't go online to find new places to live.
Mary Bell, 40, was so upset after speaking, she left the courtroom crying. "I'm so mad, it's not funny," she said. "My son is 4. He's never lived anywhere else."
Luke, who works at a fast food restaurant, complained that hotel workers didn't hand over donations the Salvation Army had dropped off for her.
"They don't care about what they are doing to us," she said.
Luke, in a custody dispute with her ex-boyfriend, said that because of lax security he has shown up four times since the new owners took over. "Homeless people are getting into empty rooms. My ceiling leaks," she said.
And it's not just the conditions that are bothering Luke and other residents.
Wanda Fisher, 58, has multiple sclerosis and shares a room with her boyfriend, James Morris, 48. Morris, a day laborer, shops and does the laundry and other chores. Fisher said while she can live in senior housing, he will not be allowed because of his age. Social service agencies want to help her, but not him, she said.
Steadying herself with a walker, Deanna Stafford, 62, said she and her son can't find a place to live. They've spent $500 for background checks only to be rejected. Her son has a criminal record, she said. Their rent is paid to the beginning of October.
"They just want to come in and just put us on the streets," Stafford said. "It's not right."
Valentin said criticisms about the lack of maintenance and other issues are unfair.
"It's obvious the conditions existed before we got there," she said, adding that security is better.
"This motel was in bad shape. The city has all the code violations records."
At this point, said Fisher, there's just one thing she wants: "Ample time to find a place."
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.