Tourists who have complained of unsanitary conditions after spending time in a Fort Wayne or Allen County hotel have prompted a newly proposed law that would establish standards for the lodging industry.
Currently, there are no county laws governing hotels.
Under the proposed ordinance, sanitation standards would be clearly defined for area motels and hotels, with a scoring and grading system that would be easily accessible for guests to view, said Mindy Waldron, department administrator for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health.
Although there was talk of such an ordinance about five years ago, Waldron said the timing is now more appropriate.
At the time, we did not receive a lot of complaints, but now the complaints are of a substantial nature, she said.
Over the last four years, complaints have steadily increased. During that period, staff members have received complaints on half of the 60 lodging establishments in Allen County, Waldron said.
The largest number of complaints have involved bedbugs and other pests, structural damage and stained or damaged mattresses, Waldron said.
In 2011, the department investigated 29 complaints; 41 such complaints were received last year. This year, the department has received more than 30, Waldron said.
Waldron, Dave Fuller of the Allen County Building Department, Dan O’Connell of the Visit Fort Wayne center and representatives of the lodging industry began meeting last year to discuss the need for such an ordinance, she said.
O’Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne, approached the Department of Health after reading several reviews on Internet travel sites that trashed area inns.
We had to address this, O’Connell said. It may be a single, solitary comment, but the world is reading it.
Of Fort Wayne’s 5 million visitors last year, about 1.2 million of them were tourists and almost half of them – 44 percent – stayed in motels and hotels while in the city, O’Connell said.
The new regulations are important if Fort Wayne and Allen County are to attract tourists through conventions, youth sporting tournaments and other venues, he said.
The proposed law includes the following for all lodging establishments:
They would have to undergo an annual inspection and pay $150 for an annual permit.
They would be scored and receive a grade of A, B, C or F, depending on the number of violations found. The grade card would need to be posted where it can be easily viewed by guests.
Establishments with low scores or grades would receive a notice of closure and be given three business days to appeal the decision. If the hearing officer determines the closure is warranted, the establishment would need to close, remedy the violations, and pass a reinspection before reopening.
Each violation is subject to a fine of $500, plus $500 each day the issue is not resolved.
The Department of Health has never had a formal ruling in place. Instead, inspections were complaint-driven, Waldron said.
The ordinance would not apply to bed-and-breakfast establishments, which are governed by state law, she said.
Even though in most cases a complaint is limited to one room, very often an inspection will lead to the discovery of more problems in the inn, Waldron said.
The health department would not need to hire more employees as current staff would take on the added responsibilities, she said.
Many hotels have to adhere to much more stringent corporate-issued standards than what Allen County is proposing, Waldron said.
Those people are very supportive of this proposed ordinance, Waldron said.
A few are resistant.
No one wants more government, and some are fearful of being graded, she said.
Board members of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health will vote on the proposed ordinance Oct. 15.
If approved, pending a final OK from the county commissioners, it would become effective Jan. 1, Waldron said.