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Hotels' Inspection Scores Vary;
 
'Do We Allow People to Live Like This?'
By Renee Beasley Jones, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Oct. 9, 2005 - Flies and gnats buzzed around the room. The corner of a soiled mattress was exposed by rumpled and stained bed linens.

Feces or blood had dried on the toilet seat. Trash overflowed from a white canister. Gray tape sealed the outside edges of the room's only window.

That's what room 110 at 231 Motel on Triplett Street looked like on a recent Friday afternoon.

Sharon Sharp, executive director of the Help Office of Owensboro, said she's seen worse at area hotels. Much worse.

Many of her clients, who can afford weekly rates on a hotel room but can't come up with a deposit for an apartment, are stuck living for extended periods in cheaper motels, such as the Cadillac Motel, Colonel House and Sun Motel.

"Clients are telling us they can't get a tub fixed," Sharp said. "There's no lighting in their rooms. They tell us it is filthy... Do we allow people to live like this?"

Her clients pay as much or more per month -- the weekly rate for a single room at 231 Motel, for example, adds up to $480 a month -- as the going rate on some two-bedroom apartments in Owensboro. That wouldn't be so bad, Sharp said, if her clients received the same daily service as hotel guests who rent a room for a night or two. But they allege that's not the case. At least one client reported going weeks without fresh linens or room service.

Local hotel owners and operators deny those allegations.

Sharp was surprised to learn recently that 231 Motel earned a 100 on its April inspection by the Green River District Health Department. After all she has seen during her years at the Help Office, she wondered how the aging, independently owned motel could rank as high as some of Owensboro's more pricey hotels.

Clay Horton, senior health environmentalist for the health department, inspects hotels at least once annually if no complaints are made.

His visits come unannounced. When he arrives, he asks for a vacancy list because only unoccupied rooms are inspected unless a complaint is made about a specific one. Then, he will ask to see that room in particular.

If enough rooms are vacant at the hotel, Horton looks at 10 percent during each inspection.

He knows many aging hotels in Owensboro have a high number of extended stays, or guests who live there. For example, 75 percent of the Colonel House's guests actually reside there, hotel management reported last week.

Horton realizes he never sees rooms where people make their homes -- unless there is a complaint about a specific room. And Sharp said residents living in hotels are afraid to file complaints because they fear being evicted. So conditions in those rooms stay under the radar.

Recently, Horton received a complaint about room 110 at 231 Motel.

On Oct. 3, he visited four rooms there, including room 110. Staff members cleaned the room before the inspection was made. Still, the hotel's score slipped to 88, as compared to 100 in April.

Last week, Horton cited the hotel for an overflowing outdoor trash bin, paint peeling from a wall, a hole in a bathroom wall, two rooms with hair on sheets (that were cleaned and ready for guests) and soiled carpets.

Andy Patel, manager of 231 Motel, said guests' rooms aren't cleaned unless they have paid their bills. A common complaint among hotel owners: It's hard to get their money from many extended-stay guests.

He offered to move the guest in room 110, but the guest declined the offer, he said.

For extended stays, the hotel staff changes the sheets twice a week, Patel said. State regulations require them to be changed a minimum of once a week, so the hotel exceeds the regulations.

Last year, only a handful of complaints came into the health department about three area hotels; 231 Motel was not among them. Records show guests registered complaints about Days Inn, Sun Motel and Colonel House.

Making the grade

Hotel inspections grade 27 categories, from water and ice supply to walls, floors and ceilings. Only six of those categories are considered critical. Failing a critical item, such as water coming from an approved source, means hotels receive a time frame under which they need to correct the problem. But it doesn't mean they must close while improvements are made.

State regulations do not set a low score that will shut down a hotel. "You can have some low scores," Horton said.

Days Inn suffered from structural problems after a roof leak. The health district received several complaints on the hotel last year, including water leaks, fixtures in poor repair, inadequate lighting at vanities, damaged electrical outlets and mold.

In February 2004, the hotel scored a 64 at its annual inspection, which included one critical category. Almost a year later, the score remained the same. But an April follow-up inspection showed much improvement. The hotel earned a 78.

Some low scores don't necessarily require a follow-up inspection, Horton said, only those with critical violations.

Robert Desai, who owns Days Inn and the Ramada Inn, said he gutted and revamped the rooms at the Days Inn that were causing problems. He also brought in a new manager.

"We're back to normal," he said.

Hotels vs. restaurants

State regulations are not as strict for hotels as restaurants, Horton said. He inspects restaurants at least twice a year. The requirement for hotels is only once a year.

Restaurant inspections have 13 critical items, as opposed to six for motels. At a restaurant, scores lower than 85 are considered failing. Horton can shut down a restaurant that scores 60 or less. With a score of 70, they receive an intent to shut down.

"There's more risk in disease being spread through food in a restaurant than through a hotel," Horton said.

The only thing that can shut down a hotel is an imminent health hazard, such as sewage backing up in rooms or an infestation of pests. Also, if an owner tries to interfere with an inspection, officials can close a hotel.

Many older motels in Owensboro show their age but still meet minimum requirements, Horton said. Their scores aren't terribly low.

When Horton gave 231 Motel a score of 100 in April, he made a note on the inspection report: minimum requirements met.

Brandi O'Bryan has lived there for four months with her daughter, Gracie, who is 9 months old.

"The carpet is filthy. There's flies everywhere," O'Bryan said.

The hotel doesn't provide soap to her room, but that's OK because she's allergic to many brands and prefers to buy her own.

O'Bryan also cleans her own room. She doesn't want hotel employees to do it.

She goes to the front desk and receives clean towels every day. "If I need clean sheets, I just ask for them."

O'Bryan pays $125 a week to live at 231 Motel.

Owners say extended stay not worth it

Desai said the Days Inn no longer accepts guests who plan to make the hotel their permanent home.

"They were tearing up the rooms. It was more trouble than it was worth," he said.

At Days Inn, extended-stay guests received the same daily service as overnight guests, Desai said.

Some people who choose to live in hotels ask for lower rates if they require less service. For example, at Days Inn, they could stay in a room for $120 a week without service. But with daily service, the price bumped up to $180 a week.

However, "if they don't get service, they complain," Desai said.

Julia McKinney manages the Colonel House. Seventy-five percent of the hotel's rooms are rented to people who make their homes there. Most of them rely on federal disability or Social Security checks to live.

When customers want clean sheets and towels -- whether it is weekly or daily -- they have been instructed to bring their soiled linens to the front desk and ask for clean ones, McKinney said.

Some people don't want hotel staff members in their rooms, she said, so service is left up to the discretion of the guest.

If a room needs repair, the Colonel House charges $90 a week for extended stays. Otherwise, the rate is $110 to $120.

"This is not a fancy motel," McKinney said. "We're not the Executive Inn."

People treat the hotel like a homeless shelter, she said. Guests lie on registration forms, saying one, two or four will occupy a room. However, they pack in extra people on the sly. "They destroy the rooms."

Five rooms at the Colonel House aren't available right now because extended-stay residents trashed them and they need extensive repair, McKinney said. Two long-term guests left unpaid bills behind -- one came to $900, and another was $1,900.

McKinney lives at the motel. She said many of the guests are on drugs or alcohol and out of control much of the time. She often wakes during the night to end squabbles or take care of other social matters.

At one point during the interview, McKinney cried about the situation. "I cannot make (extended-stay guests) leave because then the hotel would be empty."

And even though she dislikes the job, the hotel represents a steady paycheck -- and the roof over her head as well.

INSPECTION SCORES

--Budget Inn, 316 E. Third St.

Last annual inspection: April

Score: 100

--Cadillac Motel, 1311 W. Second St.

Last annual inspection: September

Score: 76

Citations: One critical -- smoke detector missing. Safety lock missing in one room, bedspreads in poor repair in two rooms, sheets unclean in one room, carpet unclean in one room, one bathtub in poor repair, old appliances and tires stored in parking lot.

--Colonel House, 1829 Triplett St.

Last annual inspection: September

Score: 74

Citations: Trash coming out of Dumpster, hole around one tub, handle missing in one tub, hole in sheets in one room, no mattress pads in rooms inspected, air conditioner in lobby dripped water, stairway landing in poor repair, laundry room ceiling in poor repair, no cover on air conditioner in one room, safety locks missing in two rooms.

--Comfort Suites, 230 Salem Drive

Last annual inspection: November

Score: 100

--Days Inn, 3720 New Hartford Road

Last annual inspection: January

Score: 64

Citations: One critical -- city officials cited the hotel for fire and safety hazards in 2004, which were still pending. Floors, ceilings and walls needed repair and bathrooms had poor lighting. April follow-up inspection showed much improvement with structural problems. The follow-up score: 78.

--Diamond Lake Motel, 7301 Hobbs Road

Last annual inspection: June

Score: 96

Citation: No mattress pads.

--Executive Inn, 1 Executive Blvd.

Last annual inspection: September

Score: 98

Citation: One ceiling damaged from water leak, which was being repaired at time of inspection.

--Fairfield Inn, 800 Salem Drive

Last annual inspection: November

Score: 100

--Hampton Inn, 615 Salem Drive

Last annual inspection: December

Score: 100

--Holiday Inn Express, 3220 W. Parrish Ave.

Last annual inspection: August

Score: 100

--Motel 6, 4585 Frederica St.

Last annual inspection: February

Score: 100

--Owensboro Motel, 1420 Triplett St.

Last annual inspection: April

Score: 96

Citation: Fixtures needed repair in a guest bath.

--Ramada Inn, 3136 W. Second St.

Last annual inspection: September

Score: 82

Citations: One critical -- plumbing leaks in several guest rooms, causing mold and water damage. Given 30 days to correct. (Period has not ended.) Plumbing fixtures needed repair, damaged carpet, inadequate lighting in baths, repair needed on exterior stairwells.

--Sleep Inn Hotel, 51 Bon Harbor Hills

Last annual inspection: February

Score: 100

--Sun Motel, 1926 Triplett St.

Last annual inspection: October 2004

Score: 72

Citation: One critical -- wasps and flies in some rooms and dead insects on the floor. Leaking tub fixtures; tubs in poor repair; sinks in poor repair; unclean floors; soap, towels, cups, ice buckets not provided in several rooms; unclean sheets in several rooms; hole in pillowcase and bedspread in one room; mattress pads not provided; missing light bulbs; broken safety locks. Given 30 days to correct. On November 2004 follow-up inspection, critical was corrected and score improved to 88.

--Super 8 Motel, 1027 Goetz Drive

Last annual inspection: November

Score: 100

--U.S. 231 Motel, 1640 Triplett St.

Last annual inspection: April

Score: 100

--Whitey's Inn, 6500 U.S. 60 W.

Last annual inspection: September

Score: 96

Citation: Cleanliness in guest rooms.

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To see more of the Messenger-Inquirer, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.messenger-inquirer.com.

Copyright (c) 2005, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.

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