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Charlotte Fire Department Rules the Knights Inn Charlotte Unsafe and Unlivable;
Online Advertisement for the Motel Describes Large Clean Rooms,
 an Outdoor Swimming Pool 
By Fred Kelly, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

July 14, 2006 - --Motel in unsafe, poor condition  is evacuated.  Officials shutter site, sending some tenants to homeless shelter

An advertisement posted online for the Knights Inn Charlotte describes large clean rooms, an outdoor swimming pool and "the best hospitality in the area."

But police and fire officials shuttered the northside motel off Statesville Road Thursday, saying it is a squalid and dangerous den for drugs and prostitution.

At least 30 people who lived there were evacuated when the Charlotte Fire Department ruled the 150-room motel unsafe and unlivable because its fire alarm system did not work and only seven rooms contained working smoke alarms.

Police described conditions as the worst they had seen at any of the city's growing number of by-the-week motels.

Rats, roaches and raccoons infested rooms with stained mattresses and walls, and broken vanities and doors, police and tenants said.

Beer cans, cigarette butts and other trash littered the parking lot, and graffiti covered walls Thursday -- even though a worker said he spent two days tidying up the grounds to address firefighters' concerns.

"Once we got inside, it was worse than we thought," said T.E. Ferguson, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer.

City buses took some tenants to homeless shelters. Others refused, saying they hoped to stay with relatives.

At least 10 children were evacuated from the motel, including a 7-week-old infant, police said.

Tenants, who said they paid $144 a week to stay at the motel, said they did not consider the property unsafe.

Many, like Claude McCorbin, were upset authorities did not give them more time to pack and find a place to stay.

"This doesn't make any sense," said McCorbin, who has lived in the motel for five years. "A lot of people still don't know what's going on."

Inspectors discovered numerous fire-code violations when they visited the motel Tuesday and gave the owner 48 hours to address their concerns, Charlotte Fire Capt. Rob Brisley said.

The motel manager declined to comment. A sign in the lobby lists Krusha Inc. as the motel owner, but officials could not be reached for comment.

The property has been a magnet for crime, police said, adding that they have tried for at least two years to address problems.

A sign in the lobby reads no refunds after 10 minutes, an indication workers rented rooms by-the-hour to prostitutes, Ferguson said. Police have conducted prostitution stings near the motel, he said.

Belinda Wike and two others loaded a pickup truck with shopping carts that she said motel tenants stole from a nearby supermarket her family owns. Often, prostitutes who stayed at the motel would stand in the store's parking lot to solicit johns, Wike said. "We call the police two or three times a month," she said.

The case highlights the increasing number of by-the-week motels.

The Lodging Association of North Carolina lists 15 such motels in Charlotte. But local social workers say there are dozens along Wilkerson Boulevard, West Sugar Creek Road, North Tryon Street and Interstate 77.

Many of the tenants cannot scrape together enough money to rent an apartment or house, social workers said. Others cannot rent a place because of past evictions or criminal records.

"You have whole families cramped into one room," said Laurie Schwartz, development director at A Child's Place, a local nonprofit that serves homeless children. "It's heartbreaking. I didn't realize until I worked here that I used to drive by a by-the-week motel everyday."

Fred Kelly: (704) 358-5027

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

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