"Paying weekly is all we can do to survive," Ortiz, 31, said. "I can't find a house that is suitable in a decent neighborhood for me and my child to be able to pay rent, pay the utilities, pay car insurance, pay gas and buy food."
For two years, Theresa Muller has lived in motel room after motel room with her three young children, her father and her boyfriend. The owner of HomeSuiteHome has wanted her out for months.
Dianna Chane says Muller's family is violating the hotel's policy of only four people per room, and clothes, furniture, toys, garbage and boxes are piled chest-high.
Chane is among those suing Osceola County Sheriff Bob Hansell to force his deputies to evict such guests. Under Florida's lodging law, it's a second-degree misdemeanor to stay in a room after being asked to leave. Yet each time Chane has asked the sheriff's office to intervene, she says deputies have refused even though they follow the law for brand-name hotels. Chane says the office calls the issue a landlord-tenant dispute that should be handled in civil court.
"I can't afford it," said Chane, who figures she has swallowed more than $200,000 in unpaid rooms since 2012.
A sheriff's spokeswoman and an attorney for the sheriff said they wouldn't comment on pending litigation. In court papers, an attorney for the sheriff said there is a presumption that occupants are not transient if they say the hotel room is their sole residence.
"Hotel owners simply cannot engage long-term guests ... then turn on a dime when they stop paying and pretend they are tourists," the sheriff's attorney said in a court filing.
Muller said she's unemployed but hopeful about a dollar-store retail job. Until then, her father's disability payments help the family try to get by. She said she found a house she can afford in a neighboring county and was in the process of moving out of Chane's motel.
"It's not a place for kids," Muller said.
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