Councilman Steve Magre, D-10

Councilman Steve Magre, D-10

Metro Councilman Steve Magre, D-10, filed an ordinance Thursday that would amend the city’s public nuisance code in an attempt to crack down on the owners of hotels where there is repeated criminal activity.

Magre has expressed frustration that the city’s current public nuisance codes let the owners of troubled hotels like the Economy Inn off the hook, as they can only be enforced on repeated violations at individual rooms, not the entire premises of the hotels and their owners.

The proposed amendment changes the code to specifically clarify that hotel ownership is liable for repeated criminal activity on its entire premises — now expanded to include assault and murder — and gives the city’s health department the power to shut down the entire hotel if such public nuisances are not abated.

“This clearly redefines and specifies, where there really wasn’t any specificity before, how responsibility falls back on the owners, and that a pattern of not being able to get control of their place will end up putting them in a position of not being able to keep their place open,” Magre told Insider Louisville. “Between that and the issues at the board of health, for these kind of hotels, they’re pretty much being put on notice.”

With Magre’s input, the amendment was drafted by Assistant County Attorney Paul Whitty over the summer to find a legal means to end loopholes for such hotels. The two attended a municipal attorneys conference last month in Columbus, a city that has had great success in shutting down crime-ridden hotels. Whereas Ohio has a comprehensive statutory scheme addressing public nuisances at the state level, Whitty told IL that it made more sense to make small amendments to the city’s ordinance allowable under state law, rather than the long and difficult process of pushing statewide legislation in Frankfort.

The proposed public nuisance code amendment specifically exempts multi-unit dwellings and apartment buildings from having their entire property shut down due to repeated violations within a single unit, but not hotels and motels. Whitty says there is an important distinction between the two, as hotel owners are less likely to be able to claim ignorance of what transpires on their premises.

“If you have a 100-unit apartment building and there’s one guy cooking meth in one of them, it certainly wouldn’t be fair to shut down the whole apartment building where people have long-term leases and have lived there for years,” said Whitty. “Apartment owners just don’t have the day-to-day contact and supervision of the premises like the hotel managers do, who should have more control over what’s going on on their premises.”

Photo by Mark Metzger

Photo by Mark Metzger

Major LaVita Chavous — commander of the LMPD’s Sixth Division, where the Economy Inn is located — previously identified this current loophole to IL as a reason they have not been able to cite the hotel for public nuisance violations. While not having a formal position on Magre’s efforts to amend the code earlier this summer, she added “with anything that would help us do our job better, we’ll be supportive of that.”

LMDP Chief Steve Conrad sounded skeptical of Magre’s effort earlier this summer to hold hotel owners accountable for public nuisance violations, saying, “If you pick any hotel in town – the Hyatt, the Marriott, the Seelbach – and there is a problem up in one of the rooms, can you hold the management accountable?”

LMPD spokeswoman Alicia Smiley told IL Thursday that the department does not issue opinions on laws or ordinances, though Whitty said several officers provided input in its drafting, and Conrad has expressed a willingness to discuss the ordinance as it goes forward.

Metro Council President David Tandy and Democratic Caucus chairman David James did not immediately comment on Magre’s ordinance, though James has previously stated he supports Magre’s effort to end such public nuisance loopholes and crack down on hotels like the Economy Inn.

Republican Caucus director Steve Haag told IL that “our members have been generally supportive of the issue Councilman Magre is working on. So I would expect that our caucus will review this in hopes of being able to solve some of the problems that are persistent in a variety of areas throughout the metro.”