Anoka County inspectors have shut down nearly half of the rooms at the Starlite Motel in Hilltop, citing them as an "immediate and serious threat to public health and safety."
Staff from the county's Community Health and Environmental Services unit inspected 19 rooms in April and suspended the license on 17 of them after finding plumbing, electrical and cleanliness problems. Inspectors will go back later this month to inspect the remaining 19 rooms.
The county licenses and inspects 65 different lodgings — motels, hotels and some classifications of senior housing. A move to suspend operations for half of a lodging's rooms is rare, an official said.
"I've been here since 1995, and it's the first time I've done a suspension of a lodging," said Spencer Pierce, manager of environmental services. "It's pretty severe. Our goal is to get people in compliance. We try to educate them and work with them on making corrections."
Inspectors have been out at the Starlite about a half-dozen times since last July.
Motel owner Raj Bhakta declined to discuss the suspension or his relationship with the city.
"We are still open. We are just improving our rooms, some of them," he said.
Bhakta said the remaining 19 rooms will pass inspections.
Police and Hilltop city officials expressed frustration about ongoing troubles at the 1960s-era two-story motel on Central Avenue.
Police in Columbia Heights, which provides law enforcement services for tiny Hilltop, said officers respond to calls at the motel several times a week. So far in 2014, they have taken 42 reports at the Starlite. In 2013, police took 163. One in four police calls in Hilltop was to the Starlite last year. Drugs and renting rooms to people with outstanding warrants are problems mentioned by authorities.
"The Starlite Motel has been the source of all sorts of criminal activity involving people who have stayed there," said Hilltop City Attorney Carl Newquist. "We are very pleased action has been taken."
One day this week, the parking lot of the motel was empty. A worker in a protective-type suit was seen working in the rooms and parking lot.
An April 18 suspension letter from Anoka County to Bhakta outlined 11 health and safety violations, including: "walls, floors and ceilings are excessively dirty and stained with unidentifiable residues" and "walls in all units inspected have holes and or patched holes making the walls uncleanable and providing for vermin harborage."