Two people seeking a room at a Brookhaven hotel after being forced out of their home by a carbon monoxide leak were turned away for lacking a nonexistent “essential traveler letter” document in a misunderstanding of a state shelter-in-place order.

A regional manager for the Hampton Inn by Hilton hotel on North Druid Hills Road apologized for the April 3 incident after receiving a letter about it from Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst, who says the city will send a notice to all hotels.

The hotel, while carrying a Hilton brand, is independently owned and operated by a Florida-based company called AD1 Global. Jon McMillian, AD1 Global’s corporate director of marketing and e-commerce, said that “our employees were indeed confused about the stay-at-home order and have since been educated. An apology was issued by the general manager and we are giving a free night stay certificate so they can experience our signature hospitality. The Hampton Inn Atlanta-North Druid Hills always aims to provide a safe, hospitable environment for all who stay with us.”

“I have not heard of any policies like that,” said Jim Sprouse, executive director of the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association, a hotel trade organization. “Hotels are there to provide accommodations for those who need it.”

The Brookhaven incident happened the same day Gov. Brian Kemp issued the statewide shelter-in-place order, restricting people to going out for “essential” services and “necessary” travel.

“The governor’s order does not require a letter for anyone,” said Governor’s Office spokesperson Candice Broce.

The incident came as part of efforts by Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, a tenant organizing group, to assist people affected by a carbon monoxide leak at the Bloom at Dresden Park apartments in Chamblee. Tonya Richardson of the Stonekey Group, the complex’s management company, said managers were not aware of the second carbon monoxide issue and the hotel problem. “All repairs have been made and inspected,” and all residents were given a $125 account credit for expenses from the incident, she said.

The leak began the weekend of March 28 and hospitalized several residents in 10 units of the complex, according to Rebekah Cohen Morris, the housing director at Los Vecinos, who is also a Doraville City Council member. Residents were allowed to return April 1, but the carbon monoxide issue returned, and firefighters ordered residents out on April 2, she said.

Rebekah Cohen Morris of Los Venicos de Buford Highway. (Special)

Most of the tenants found people to stay with temporarily, Cohen Morris said. But two roommates could not: a woman with a 1-year-old child and an attorney from Nicaragua who is seeking political asylum. The attorney asked for help.

“I was like, ‘OK, we’ll get you guys a hotel,’” said Cohen Morris. She said she is in a Hilton membership program and made an online reservation at the Hilton-owned Hampton Inn at 1975 North Druid Hills Road, just off Buford Highway.

But when Cohen Morris arrived at the hotel with the roommates, she said, two desk workers refused to register them.

“They were like, ‘You need a letter that states that you’re an essential traveler — you need an essential travel letter.’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’” recalled Cohen Morris.

The Hampton Inn at 1975 North Druid Hills Road. (Google Maps)

She said she explained the situation and said, “It’s either we stay here or they’re on the street.” The employees still refused and suggested a hotel in Decatur instead, Cohen Morris said. No supervisor was available.
Cohen Morris said in the end, she let the roommates stay her house overnight.

Ernst, Brookhaven’s mayor, saw Cohen Morris complain about the situation on social media. He wrote a letter to Linda Williams, an area regional manager for the chain.

“I know these are hard time for everyone and people are just trying to do their best. However, this situation is not necessarily the best one can do,” he wrote.

“I sincerely apologize as I’m sure there was some confusion on last evening, as this was the first day of the mandated ordinance for the state,” responded Williams in an email.

Williams declined to comment and said no one else with the chain was available. Nigel Glennie, Hilton’s vice president of corporate communications, said the Hampton location is an independently owned and operated franchise, and declined to comment.

“We really appreciate John Ernst writing [the letter],” Cohen Morris said.

Ernst said he has not heard similar complaints about other local hotels, but the “city will circulate [a notice] at some point” to them all.

Sprouse at the hotel industry group noted that Kemp’s order applies to hotel with such provisions as social distancing.

“That said, there is much confusion on what is allowed and what is not,” he said. “… Perhaps in this case there is confusion about what is allowed. Our interpretation is that shelter is a necessity.”

Meanwhile, Los Vecinos continues to work with the Bloom tenants about the carbon monoxide situation, Cohen Morris said. As of the afternoon of April 4, it was unclear whether they would need to find accommodations elsewhere again. If the roommates still need help, Cohen Morris said, “…I imagine Hampton will be giving us free accommodations at some point.”

Update: This story has been updated with comment from AD1 Global, the Hilton hotel chain and the Bloom apartment complex management.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.