An appeals court affirmed that an extended stay motel was improperly evicting several long-time residents.

The lawsuit was against Efficiency Lodge, an extended stay motel in south DeKalb County which was once co-owned by former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes and his brother Ray Barnes. Three former tenants, who were represented by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, claimed they were locked out of their rooms and told to leave — sometimes at gunpoint — when they fell behind on their rent payments in 2020.

A lower court found last year that Efficiency Lodge was acting as a landlord and had to go through the formal eviction process, which can be a lengthy court process. The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling Monday. Lindsey Siegel, an attorney for the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the case sets a legal precedent that protects the rights of extended stay motel residents.

“The ruling is not just about Efficiency Lodge. It applies to all extended stay hotels in Georgia,” she said during a Tuesday phone call.

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Roy Barnes, who represents Efficiency Lodge, said the case is not over and will be appealed to the state’s top court

“Though we respect the ruling of the Court of Appeals, we believe the court was wrong in its analysis,” Barnes told the AJC in an email. “We will apply for review by the Supreme Court of Georgia.”

»Read the full appeals court ruling at the bottom of this story.

Efficiency Lodge has 15 locations in Georgia and Florida. It’s currently owned by Ray Barnes; Roy Barnes sold his interest in the company many years ago.

In October 2020, residents protested outside of the Efficiency Lodge off Flat Shoals Road in Atlanta’s Panthersville neighborhood due to the prevalent evictions. The motel was using private, armed security guard to evict residents. Barnes said those measures were not illegal and were necessary to deal with complaints about crime.

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In the appeal, Efficiency Lodge argued they are an “innkeeper” and not a landlord, which means they can lock out residents who stop paying rather than going through the eviction process. The appeals court found that argument didn’t hold up well to scrutiny, given how Efficiency Lodge advertises itself and how its contracts with tenants are written.

The court’s 18-page ruling said the company uses the slogan, “Stay a Nite or Stay Forever,” on its website. And while contracts with residents explicitly say it’s not a landlord-tenant relationship, they included that residents would be responsible for expenses, attorney’s fees and court costs incurred in the event of an eviction, indicating there would be a formal court process.

Siegel said tens of thousands of people in metro Atlanta rely on extended stay motels for stable housing, given they typically make low incomes and may be living on the brink of homelessness. She said it’s clear they deserve the same level of protections as apartment or home dwellers.

“These are places where school buses are picking up kids for school, where people are receiving mail,” she said. “These are the addresses on their driver’s license. These are people’s homes.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which joined the appeals lawsuit in support of the former tenants, there are nearly 26,000 extended stay units in the five-county metro Atlanta area.

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Siegel said the court’s ruling should stand if it goes before the Georgia Supreme Court.

“The facts are what matter in this case, and those facts have been established and they’re not going to change,” she said. “...We’re confident the supreme court would decide the case the same way the court of appeals has.”