Carrollton is Cracking Down on Suspect Hotels, But Owners Say the City's Going Too Far

Here at Unfair Park, we're suckers for "people trying to take shit from Asians" stories. The latest installment takes place in Carrollton, Texas, where the town's seven hotels are each owned by Asians, and where the city is coming down on them. Hard.

Some are more rundown than others, but they're affordable, and probably do nicely as long as you're not expecting the Ritz. According to the owners, though, that's part of the problem. They claim that Carrollton's trying to use city code to force them all out, and while no one's playing the race card outright, there are whispers of a campaign to un-Asian the city's hotel business.

It started in 2008, when the city passed an ordinance to "increase the accountability of owners and operators for criminal activity, for failure to maintain safe, sanitary and decent conditions and for the blighting effects these create in the community."

According to the ordinance, the city recorded a combined 8,242 police and fire calls to the hotels between 2001 and 2007. The Guest Inn was responsible for 2,646 itself, and The Lone Star Inn wasn't far behind with 2,102 calls.

A neighborhood watch organization called Citizens on Patrol (COPs) inflated the numbers by calling cops about double-parked vehicles and blacks maybe or maybe not loitering in the parking lot. But other times the calls were more serious. In the ordinance, the city cited cases of general dilapidation, fire hazards, unsanitary conditions, illegal drug use and prostitution in its ordinance, and photographed among other things rooms in assorted hotels with broken locks, mouse poo in the lobby, mattresses with dried blood on top and crack pipes and escort ads (ahem) underneath.

So Carrollton passed new lodging standards to be enforced by code inspectors. If a hotel racked up violations for more than 10 percent of its total rooms (so 11 violations for 100 rooms), its certificate would be revoked, and even if they were corrected, the owner wouldn't be able to reapply for three years.

The owners were furious and sued. It seemed punitive, and they claimed that the ordinance was a "Hotel-Eradication License Scheme" to rid Carrollton of budget hotels so that more expensive ones could move in. They also said the city inspectors were harassing guests.

InTown Suites claims guests have complained about the hotel inspectors. Five or six building inspectors will enter an occupied room at once without guests' consent, and sometimes kick the occupants out, the hotel claims. InTown Suites are extended stay, where people lodge for weeks or months at a time, and inspectors rifle through their cabinets and nightstands, the suit claims.

One paranoid guest booby-trapped his drawers with clear tape during an inspection. When he returned, he found the tape broken and his once-folded underwear disheveled.

InTown Suites has two extended stay hotels in the city, and both were denied lodging licenses. So InTown Suites filed a lawsuit last year against the city, the property standards board, the city manager and the environmental services department. The Asian-American Hotel Owners Association recently lent its support, as well as the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association and, the largest of them all, the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

City officials declined to comment this week, but in its official written response to the lawsuit, the city claims it has "a legitimate governmental interest in economic development within its limits which more than justifies the need to establish standards for hotels."

"The major issue," says InTown Suites' attorney Richard Barrett-Cuetara, "is that we believe this is the most over-the-top inspection performed by a jurisdiction my client has experienced in the country." InTown Suites has 138 hotels in 21 different states. A city hearing is expected in the next 30 to 60 days.

Here is the lengthy lawsuit in its entirety:

InTown Suites v. Carrollton Lawsuit

Carrollton's response: Carrollton Response to InTown Suites Lawsuit

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Greg Howard