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Long-term motel tenants feel forced out by new Wheat Ridge ordinance

Wheat Ridge City Council passed an ordinance requiring hotels that allow extended stays to meet a long list of requirements. The goal is to reduce police calls.

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — In a section of Wheat Ridge along Interstate 70, there's a collection of motels that people call home.

"This is the place we've got to be right now. We can afford it," Teresa Chateauneuf said.

She and her husband Mike Chateauneuf have been living at the Best Interstate Inn for more than two years.

"My lungs are getting worse. My heart's getting worse," Mike said.

Health problems force this Army veteran to live at the end of an oxygen tube. 

They also live at the end of their means.

"We ended up with a $37,000 bill, hospital bill, that I'm still trying to pay off," Mike said.

Teresa works full time, but they still can't afford an apartment.

Credit: KUSA

"It's not just this hotel. It's the hotel across the highway, the hotel down the street," Teresa said. "All these people that rent are renting and they're kinda like stuck because this is the only place they can afford to rent."

This collection of motels has been a problem for Wheat Ridge Police, according to Division Chief of Patrol Operations Jim Lorentz.

"Basically disturbances, assaults, thefts, you know, you name it. There was a lot of activity going on there," Lorentz said.

If the City of Wheat Ridge is like a house, Lorentz said this area at Kipling and I-70 is like a broken window attracting drug activity and people who are homeless.

"If there's a broken window in the neighborhood and somebody doesn't fix it, then things can get worse," Lorentz said. "Then, you see graffiti. Then, you see crime."

Last year, Lorentz said, Wheat Ridge had 14,000 homes, 4,000 businesses and nine hotels or motels. He said just those nine locations were the source of 10% of all police calls for service, with the most being at the Super 8, Motel 6 and American Motel.

Credit: KUSA

"That's taxing. That's taxing our resources," Lorentz said.

In October, the Wheat Ridge City Council passed an ordinance requiring strict guidelines for hotels and motels starting this year.

"They have to get a license to operate the hotel and there are several criteria that they have to agree on to maintain that license," Lorentz said.

First, the hotels and motels have to literally clean things up, making landscaping and facility improvements to appear more inviting, according to Lorentz. He said they must form a security plan with police to reach the expressed goal of reducing calls for service.

"If calls for service don't decrease, then the properties are in jeopardy of losing a license or being suspended," Lorentz said.

Second, for hotels and motels that want to allow extended stays of 30 days or more, they must meet a long list of requirements, such as a kitchen in the room with proper food storage. Hotels or motels with extended stay tenants must also provide three of these five common area amenities: a business center, fitness area, swimming pool, meeting rooms, or a restaurant/food options on site.

"When people live in a location for a long period of time, if they don’t have those kinds of amenities, it can be a safety kind of issue," Lorentz said.

He believes improved living conditions will cut down on crime.

"If you fix things, like that broken window, then it looks like the people care in that neighborhood. They take better care of their property," Lorentz said.

Credit: KUSA

The problem for Teresa and Mike is motels don't want to make those changes to accommodate long-term tenants like them.

"As of June 30th, we can't live here," Teresa said.

Hotels and motels can solely focus on short-term rentals of 29 days or less. As of July 1, extended stay tenants like Teresa and Mike will be forced out. Teresa said they will have to survive on the streets.

"We're going to be living in a tent," Teresa said. "I am worried because he's got all this medical equipment and if he doesn't have it, he's gonna die."

Mike said the June 30 date is approaching and causing him and his wife undue stress.

"They throw us back out on the street and say sink or swim, baby," Mike said. "If I go there, I'm gonna die. I can't stay here. Where I go next, am I gonna die there, too?"

The conundrum, they said, is Teresa and Mike don't really want to continue living in a motel, but they don't really want to leave, either.

"We're not the ones causing the problem," Mike said.

They feel like victims of the law.

"I think the city should reconsider what they're actually doing to people like us," Mike said.

Credit: KUSA

The City of Wheat Ridge will work with residents who are displaced to help them find housing through a program called Homeless Navigator.

"I understand it can be difficult. I understand some people have been there for years and years. We just discovered there's been a person living in a hotel for 19 years," Lorentz said.

Lorentz said this new licensing ordinance is necessary for Wheat Ridge.

"Change happens and that is unfortunate sometimes. Sometimes, it's good," Lorentz said.

Sometimes, that change comes at the cost of people like Teresa and Mike.

"It's like they don't care if two people are homeless on the street," Teresa said. "They don't care if he's sick."

9NEWS reached out to all the hotels and motels, but no one wanted to comment.

Mike said when June 30 arrives, he'll be ready for anything.

"I'll do what I have to do to survive," Mike said.

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