Econo Lodge in Sunset Hills termed ‘unfit for human occupancy’

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By Gloria Lloyd
Staff Reporter
news3@callnewspapers.com

After more than a year of wrangling with the city, the Sunset Hills Econo Lodge appeared to finally shut down last week when the county cited the hotel as “unfit for human occupancy.”

An inspector from the county Problem Properties Unit found enough code violations in the crime-ridden hotel most recently known as Sunset Lodge, 3730 S. Lindbergh Blvd., to issue an order to vacate Feb. 9.

The order mandates that the hotel close until a page-long list of issues is fixed.

The hotel appeared to be closed the night the order was issued, with two cars from the Sunset Hills Police Department stationed in the parking lot. At the Call’s press time, a few cars remained, one resident appeared to be getting things out of a room and a police officer was still parked in front of the building.

But Expedia, Hotwire and other online reservation sites were still taking reservations for the night of Valentine’s Day.

The order does not go into detail on the violations, but notes that the property must be vacated effective immediately because it is “dangerous to life and health because of the degree in which it lacks maintenance or is in disrepair, is unsanitary, vermin or rat-infested, contains filth and contamination” or other violations. The issues listed range from plumbing to the electrical system to stairways, decks, porches or balconies that are not structurally sound.

City Administrator Eric Sterman said he is not an expert on building codes, but “I would suspect that these are things that could be corrected. How much time and money that would take, I don’t know.”

The city contracts with the county for code inspections and enforcement. Inspectors had looked at the Econo Lodge before, but following a power outage at the hotel a few weeks ago, an inspector asked the city for a full inspection due to potential health and safety issues. The city agreed, Sterman said.

Hotel operators have been at odds with the city since October 2016, when the Board of Aldermen revoked the hotel’s business license due to rampant crime.

The long list of incidents the Police Department had responded to at the hotel included drugs, guns, overdoses, prostitution, suicides and sex-trafficking rings.

Dentist Michael White, whose office is next door, said a dead body was brought out during his 2016 open house.

When the hotel kept operating despite the lack of a license, the city issued fines and took it to court. A judge approved a receivership for the hotel to continue operating separate from original owner Shaiq Amir, and the new operators were still operating it up until the order to vacate, Sterman said. The hotel was bought at auction in December by the bank that held Amir’s loan on the property.

Although Sunset Lodge operators were phasing out permanent residents, some people still called the hotel their home.

The city is working to find those families alternate housing, Sterman said.

Several families who lived at the hotel have children that go to Lindbergh Schools. The school district’s social workers are aware of the closing and are working with the affected families to make sure that the children have transportation to and from school.

“We were working with these families before the Econo Lodge decision, and will continue to do so to ensure that these students’ needs are being met,” Lindbergh Communications Director Beth Johnston said in
an email.

By federal law, the children are considered homeless and the school district has to provide transportation to and from the same school they’ve been attending from wherever the families are staying now. The children will also continue to receive meals through the free and reduced lunch program, Johnston added.