Penalties enacted on hourly motels

Posted on: October 16 2009 | Posted in: Latest News
Penalties enacted on hourly motels

Jeff hopes to deter drug deals, prostitution

Thursday, October 15, 2009

By Paul Rioux

The Times Picayune

West Bank bureau

Cracking down on seedy motels deemed havens for prostitutes and drug dealers, the Jefferson Parish Council enacted criminal penalties Wednesday for renting out rooms by the hour.

Renting a room for fewer than 12 hours is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine under an ordinance the council approved unanimously.

The ordinance also sets standards for motel rooms and allows authorities to move to rescind an establishment's occupational license based on the number of code violations or drug and prostitution arrests on the property.

The council banned motels from renting rooms by the hour in January 2008, but the ordinance included no penalties. The 2008 ordinance prohibited rentals for fewer than 20 hours, but the time period was reduced to 12 hours under the new ordinance.

"If a business traveler checks in at 11 at night and leaves in the morning, the room would have to be held out of commerce for seven or eight hours to meet the 20-hour requirement. That wasn't the intent of the ordinance," said Tim Whitmer, the parish's chief administrative officer.

The 2008 ordinance allowed motels to charge hourly rates during major events, including the Super Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. It also exempted motels within a quarter of a mile of a hospital so they can rent to patients seeking outpatient care nearby.

On Wednesday, the council added another exception for pilots and flight attendants seeking a place to rest during layovers by allowing hourly room rentals in a 1.75-mile radius around Louis Armstrong International Airport.

The ordinance also sets minimum standards for motel rooms, which must have a double-sized mattress, a private bathroom, a deadbolt lock and a security peephole in the door or a window next to the door.

The parish will inspect motels at least once a year and can move to revoke the occupational license for motels considered to "negatively impact the health, safety or welfare" of guests and neighboring residents.

A four-member panel will conduct revocation hearings and make recommendations to the Parish Council, which will have the final say.

The ordinance was introduced in August but a vote was delayed two months pending negotiations with the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association.

"We are very pleased with the end result," said Mavis Early, the group's executive director. "We worked well with Jefferson Parish to come to an agreement that will be good for our industry overall."

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Paul Rioux can be reached at prioux@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3785.