9 Investigates: Trying to deal with problem hotels



SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - 9 Investigates discovered that troubled hotels overrun with drugs and crime sit along busy Interstate 4. They're also near one of central Florida's main shopping centers, and some of the area's nicest neighborhoods. But Channel 9's Karla Ray discovered it is not so simple to shut down those inns.
Altamonte Springs investigators told Ray, during a ride along, that they're routinely greeted by lookouts on balconies at hotels near gated communities and high-end shopping centers.
The hotels are also permanent residences for hundreds of homeless residents and families, while at the same time they serve as a cheap place for prostitution and drugs.
“Anything from robberies down to thefts, vandalism,” said Robert Pelton, with Altamonte Springs police.
The same crime problems exist at many hotels across central Florida.
9 Investigates pulled crime statistics for locations in Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties easily uncovering multiple arrests for drugs, prostitution and gang activity.
Ray also found state law says two of those kinds of arrests during a six-month period is enough for intervention that could shut the establishments down.
That, in fact, has happened in Orange County, where the sheriff's office runs a nuisance abatement squad. They can force hotel and motel owners to follow a plan to clean up their properties, or shut down their hotels.
At the old Super Inn on Orange Blossom Trail the owners couldn't keep crime out, so they closed shop.
Yet some authorities do not aggressively enforce the laws available to them when it comes to the problem hotels.
In Osceola County, for example, where Channel 9 has reported extensively on sex offenders and prostitutes living next to families in hotels along U.S. 192, a code enforcement spokesman told us there is no nuisance abatement board to force hotel owners to be pickier about who stays in each room.
“If we're not there to enforce the laws they mean nothing,” said Dianna Chane, owner of Home Suite Home along U.S.192.
Chane owns a hotel in Orlando, as well as the one along U.S 192. She is currently suing the Osceola County Sheriff's Office for “selective enforcement,” claiming only some people on her property are arrested when they break the law.
“They have plenty of laws on their books and ordinances in place that they can do many, many things to send a signal to people in the area that you need to obey the rules,” Chane said.
And yet neither the city of Altamonte Springs nor Seminole County Code Enforcement has ever used the law to shut down a nuisance property within those jurisdictions.
Instead, law enforcement officials told 9 Investigates they're constantly monitoring for crime at places where dozens of children call home.
Ray checked around and found out the city of Daytona Beach also has had success cleaning up troubled hotels near the beach through a specialized nuisance squad.