Almost two years after Volusia County authorities became concerned about squalid and unsafe living conditions at a hotel on DeLand’s east side, the facility is now condemned, and the residents have been forced to leave.
After shutting off the electricity and water on May 23, county officials took a further step and closed the Budget Inn at 2801 E. New York Ave. on June 6, declaring it “unfit for human occupancy.”
“No one is out there. All the doors have been locked. It is empty,” Sheriff’s Capt. Benyamin Yisrael told The Beacon.
Some residents had remained without power or water; they have now been moved out.
“We turned the power off and requested everyone to leave,” Yisrael said.
“This is not an eviction,” county Growth and Resource Management Director Clay Ervin said. “We use the term ‘evacuation.’”
Ervin said moving people out of the run-down living quarters to shelters and other temporary housing was done with understanding and compassion.
“We understand that these are human beings. We weren’t going to put anyone at the curb. We do not want them on the street. We want to make sure they have housing,” he said.
Those moved out of the hotel included some children.
Ervin said a few of the residents refused new living arrangements offered by the county, because many of the shelters prohibit drugs and alcohol.
The Budget Inn is now off-limits, posted with warnings against trespassing. Capt. Yisrael said authorities are seeking to tear the buildings down.
The shutdown followed a May 3 inspection by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation that resulted in the revocation of the Budget Inn’s hotel and restaurant license.
The state inspection found “large openings in the ceilings of four units, holes in walls and ceilings, a build-up of garbage on the property, discarded appliances stored outside, and the presence of live and dead roaches,” reads a county report sent to The Beacon.
Besides those “deplorable living conditions,” the hotel had “a faulty wastewater treatment plant and a lack of smoke detectors,” notes a summary from the county’s Building and Code Administration.
The Volusia County Property Appraiser’s Office lists the owner of the Budget Inn as ENY Equity LLC, with a Massachusetts address. Property appraiser documents indicate the corporation bought the property in 2016 for $1.25 million.
County officials said they had received complaints from Budget Inn residents as long ago as 2020, and inspections confirmed the unsafe conditions.
Despite the absence of electricity and running water, about 70 people had stayed in the hotel. That prompted the county’s June 6 multi-agency action to get everyone out.
Besides the Sheriff’s Office, the county’s Building and Code Enforcement, Community Assistance and Animal Control offices were on hand.
Animal Control was present because one of the tenants had a pet python that the agency took away.
“The owner of the snake voluntarily surrendered the snake to Animal Control,” Yisrael said.
The Sheriff’s Office transported one resident to a mental-health facility under the Baker Act, after he told deputies he had nothing to live for and injured himself by breaking a window in his vehicle.
“ … there is a substantial likelihood that without care or treatment the individual will cause serious bodily harm to himself,” the Sheriff’s Office report about the incident states.
Yisrael and Ervin said some of the rooms had exposed electrical wiring.
“The reason we turned the power off was because there was an immediate threat to life and safety,” Ervin said.
Ervin noted code officers had repeatedly asked the owner of the property to bring it into compliance with building regulations governing apartment complexes.
“They had converted the hotel to an apartment building,” he said. “They changed from a hotel. What you need for an apartment is different.”
The change from visitors’ lodging to longer-term living quarters was done without building permits, Ervin said.
The county has been concerned about people living at the Budget Inn for almost two years, and ramped up its effort to improve conditions there about 10 months ago.
“We went out and did inspections in September. They didn’t allow us in,” Ervin added.
Also in September, county Community Assistance staffers and representatives of private social-service agencies visited the Budget Inn to inform residents about potential housing alternatives and other services. The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia, Halifax Urban Ministries and the Volusia-Flagler Coalition for the Homeless were part of the outreach.
“The county organized a resource event specifically for households living at the hotel on Sept. 23, 2021, at the Volusia County Fairgrounds,” the report reads. “Multiple community partners were present, providing information about housing, public benefits, employment, animal care and other social services. Votran provided free shuttle service to the event from the hotel.”
The effort to coax those living in the Budget Inn to move out continued with “multiple site visits and phone calls to reach out to households,” the report notes.
“Known households living at the hotel were paired with a caseworker,” the document also reads.
County Manager George Recktenwald summed up the county’s June 6 action at the Budget Inn as “helping people in the worst living conditions.”
A decision on the county’s request to tear down the hotel-turned-apartment complex could come by the end of June, Yisrael said.
“We do not like demolishing buildings,” Ervin said.