Judge Shuts Down Hotel, Calling It a Health Threat

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A D.C. Superior Court judge temporarily shut down a Northeast Washington hotel yesterday amid complaints about stained mattresses, bug-infested bed linens and defective smoke detectors and toilets.

Judge Susan R. Winfield said the operators of the President Inn were "running a business that was perhaps dangerous to the health of most of its occupants." She ordered the hotel closed at least until a follow-up hearing Thursday.

The judge ordered operators to evict guests from the 147-room hotel, at 1600 New York Ave. NE, at the request of D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer and the city's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

The city filed suit this month after inspections flagged numerous problems, D.C. officials said. The unsanitary conditions are thought to have infected one customer with scabies, they said. An investigation also found that the owner of the hotel did not have a proper business license, officials said.

Sources close to the investigation said the attorney general's office plans to investigate other hotels in the New York Avenue corridor.

During a hearing yesterday, attorneys for the hotel said the problems will be addressed quickly.

"This is not a dirty hotel. This is not the Hilton, but it's still not a rat trap," said Stephen H. Kaufman, representing the business. "The violations you're looking at don't demand immediate closure."

Kaufman said the temporary closing will have an adverse impact on the hotel, its 18 employees, and current and future guests. Kaufman said about 75 out-of-town guests booked the hotel for this weekend.

About 50 of the hotel's rooms were occupied yesterday, and managers were working on finding other lodging. Kaufman said that the owner was applying for the license and that the hotel should remain open in the meantime.

"We believe this was erroneous and unfortunate, and the hotel regrets the inconvenience to its guests," Kaufman said after the hearing. "The hotel is expediting the procurement of the needed license, and we are confident we will be reopened soon."

Alicia Washington, a lawyer with the D.C. attorney general's office, said the city will ask the judge to close the hotel indefinitely if conditions are not improved by Thursday.

Joyce Howard, who said she stayed at the hotel from February through April, applauded the ruling. She said she was bitten by bedbugs and still has red sores across her back and arms.

"I'm glad the people came out to inspect the place," Howard said.

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