Every year on April Fools Day I try to think of something I can tell my family and friends that won’t scare them too much but will be fun and funny to April Fools them.
This year, the universe played an April Fools Day joke on me and all the people staying at the same hotel. But it was not a joke. Starting in the afternoon of April 1, 2021, the hotel started calling and going door to door to tell everyone staying there that the hotel just closed and they have to vacate immediately. Families who were there on vacation spending Easter weekend at Disney all had to pack up and try to find, on this very busy weekend in Orlando, another place to stay.
This was not an expensive hotel, so most of the people who were staying there live day to day and do not have extra money to pay for another hotel. While the hotel was offering refunds for the remainder of the days that were not used, refunds take 3-5 days to go through, therefore many people were having to scrape for extra money to pay for another place. And with April 1st falling on the Thursday before Good Friday and Easter weekend this year, the rates in Orlando were extremely high and trying to find a vacancy, difficult. Guests were leaving in a hurry and scurrying for places to stay.
For me, I didn’t get a knock on my door until after 8pm, saying “hotel management” as he knocked. He told me that we had to leave. I asked him when. He said, "4pm today". Ok, so it was after 8pm now and I asked how long we had to get out. He said midnight everything would be shut down and we had to vacate, but also followed it with saying we could try to stay the night and go to the office in the morning for a refund. But the police were already coming on the hotel property at the gates getting ready to escort people who were still there off the property at midnight with a rope ready to rope off the property at the entrance. I honestly thought the second I closed the door, that this employee would knock again and say “April Fools!”.
But he didn’t.
It was weird because I was working in my room all day and we had a poolside room that was typically noisy. I was thinking the entire day how weird it was that the pool area was so quiet and no one was there. Apparently, many guests had started getting knocks on their door or phone calls to their room starting in mid-afternoon. So most had started making plans and vacating before I even knew it was happening. No phone call or knock at my room door until after 8pm.
My daughter was out with a friend the whole day and I had to wait for her to get back to go down to the front office to try to get some refund because the hotel employee who knocked on my door said the locks were being changed and we would not be able to get back in.
So I called my daughter and told her the story because I needed her to hurry back at this point. And I just knew that she’d think I was playing an April Fools Joke on her. This was not something that was very believable. Even when she got back to the hotel and saw how empty it was becoming, saw the police at the entrance with a rope that was tied up ready to block it at midnight, she still was 30% sure I was April fooling her. Of course, she was not the only one. Everyone I have told this story to only half believed me, because it was on April Fools Day. If only I could create an April Fools that was this elaborate. But not this year during COVID. This was certainly not a joke. This was real.
When my daughter got back to the hotel, it was almost 9pm. I went to the front office and I could see how upset the lady at the front desk was. She looked like she had been crying. Apparently, the new owners came on property after noon and met with the senior staff and told them they all had to pack up and leave and make sure the hotel was vacated. None of the employees knew when they came into work that morning that they’d be leaving without a job. And they still had to function to help the guests, probably dealing with many who were very upset and taking it out on them.
I was told I was refunded the remaining nights I had prepaid for. Except the current night. Which was a little upsetting since we couldn’t stay until morning. And I really wanted a full refund for the deception and inconvenience of being without a place to sleep during a very busy time when vacancies are rare and prices are high. But I was happy they were providing refunds at all, though I haven’t yet seen the money back in my account so I only half believe I’ll get it.
What most guests who were gathering around the front office area by 10pm were most upset about was the fact that the previous hotel owner apparently knew about the sale. Apparently he knew that the hotel needed to be cleared and wrapped up by the 1st of April, and he just took the sale money and left. He didn’t tell his employees, he ran specials on the website that fully booked out the hotel. People, like me, saw the deals and grabbed them, in my case booking for 2 weeks so we could use up our 4 day Disney pass. This was only my 3rd day at the hotel. It was a clear deception taking people's money and booking their vacations and stays. For me personally, I booked my stay on March 27th for a stay from March 30 - April 12. They took my reservation directly on the website and took my money 4 days prior to this turnover of ownership and hotel closure.
And the other guests, like me, felt deceived. We should have been informed. We shouldn't have been able to make reservations 4 days before this turnover and shutdown. And we certainly shouldn't have paid all that money that is now locked up and waiting for refunds.
Now the details of what the old owner did and new owners are doing is all hearsay based on what the employees were sharing and what the police officer who was there shared with us. According to the officer in front of the hotel office at 10pm, the new owners were taking possession of the property and the previous owner was supposed to have taken care of vacating it. The new owners apparently sat down with the police in the early afternoon and told them the situation. The police officer stated the Florida law that if you are asked to leave and you do not, you are trespassing and can be arrested on a misdemeanor. Everyone at the hotel was asked to leave and had no choice but to do so. The police were there to make sure of it. I actually recorded a 15 minute video of the police talking to the residents and the scene at the entrance to the hotel where guests were upset, in line waiting to get refunds, and all desperately looking for answers and places to stay.
The Florida law requires a proper eviction only for full time “provable” residency. I was curious about if this situation had happened at other hotels in the past. The officer told me of one other where it was a long term stay hotel and there were people who were actual residents with a mailing address there and who had to be evicted. This was pretty rare for a hotel to boot the guests due to a new owner taking possession. Typically, a new owner would honor the current guest stays and then move forward with their plans to renovate.
What is very distressing about the situation, other than the fact that this happened to all these people, myself included, is something most people do not realize when you are traveling. Whether staying at a hotel, airbnb, or other vacation rental, if the owner asks you to leave, regardless of if you have paid or not, you have to leave. Otherwise, they can call the police and say you are trespassing. The law states that if you are asked to leave and don’t, you are a trespasser and can be arrested. If you paid money and believe you have the right to stay, you don’t. It fully becomes a civil suit that you can file against the owner. But you still have to leave.
There are several news organizations writing about this incident, including Fox 35, Newsweek, Orlando Sentinel, who uncovered the deed that was filed showing the sale to Champions Village Kissimmee with Carlos Balzola as an agent of the company. Carlos Balzola is associated with several holding, investment, and development companies that seemingly buy and convert properties into condos and multi-family.
The whole situation is upsetting and all of the families who were put out should get some compensation, or at minimum, a FULL refund and not partial refunds. But that is not the only upsetting thing about it.
I’d love to hear from the previous owner and the new owner to hear their side to this story. I have to question the integrity of these big corporations who are buying up properties and only care about their bottom line. There is no excuse for the new owners throwing people out on the street with just a few hours notice. Not to mention during a busy and expensive time to find a replacement hotel preceding a holiday weekend. Many with families and children, many with pets, like us, which makes it all the more difficult to find a replacement hotel.
Anyone buying a property such as a hotel where people stay and employees depend on employment and paychecks and even some employees live, should have procedures for taking over the property and clearing out guests AFTER their stay, fulfilling all current guests stays, and properly informing employees. There is no excuse for the new owners to send police threatening to arrest anyone who paid for their stay, if they do not leave with just a few hours notice. This is why people don't trust the police. There is no reason for this kind of treatment of people. The police should be there to protect the people, not the corporate money who are acting deceptively and throwing families out on the street when they did nothing wrong. The people who planned vacations, mostly families with children, MATTER. We all matter.
And while it was seemingly the fault of the old owner, the actions of the new owner are their own fault. (Update April 6th - Orlando Sentinel uncovered the story of the turnover. ) This large investment company could have partnered with another local hotel and made arrangements for each guest finish out their stay in the area. That would be the least they could have done if they couldn't let the guests stay. And let's face it. This would be pocket change for these guys. Or how about a full refund (not partial) for all who were in the hotel and got kicked out. And add Disney, Universal and local attraction tickets to compensate all of us for the inconvenience and anxiety. Or just a monetary compensation for the hassle, anxiety and disruption to our lives. And I am not April Fooling!
Editorial: April 2, 2021
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