Houston wins lawsuit against motel

April 2, 2009 8:15:39 PM PDT
A southeast Houston neighborhood and the city of Houston are celebrating a victory. They worked together to get rid of a motel they say became a haven for criminals. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Since we first reported this story, we've learned new details about a civil suit against the motel. It's located on Livingston in the Sunnyside community.

It is a rarely used law that stemmed from this lawsuit. The city says they filed the lawsuit because they wanted to put an end to a seedy motel that had been a haven from criminals in that neighborhood.

The El Rondo Motel has never been the kind of neighbor Alberta Nelson wanted to have.

"I'll be 70 years old this year. You don't get no rest, no sleep. Jumping up and looking out the window at night. I'm tired of this," said Nelson.

For years, the motel has rented rooms by the hour and according to the city of Houston, it became a de facto haven for prostitutes and drug dealers. So in an unprecedented move, the city filed a lawsuit against the motel.

The city's attorney argued in court that the motel's owners did little to curb the illegal activity on its property.

"You're not just tolerating prostitution, you're insisting on it, you're implicit in the crime," said city attorney Garland Murphy.

Attorneys for the owner of the motel, the Patel family, insisted it's only guilty of trying to pursue the American dream. It's a tough defense especially after Mayor Bill White attended the closing arguments to show support for the case.

"I'm trying to shut down private businesses if they violate the law," said Mayor White.

In the end, it would take the jury less than an hour to come back with a verdict that the motel is indeed a public nuisance.

"It's very devastating for them, this is a family that's come here from India try to build their American dream, and it's been taken away from them," said J. Beverly, the motel owner's attorney.

The motel will most likely be shut down and the city says it hopes this is just the first of many victories.

"People were propositioned, the prostitution, the drugs. If we're able to get a verdict that will allow us to do something, then it's a great tool for the city of Houston, a great day," said city attorney Arturo Michel.

The city of Houston has two other ongoing lawsuits against two other hotels in the city with similar allegations.

As for members of the Patel family, they did not want to talk with us.

Both Beverly and the city attorneys believe the judge will rule that the motel will be shut down for at least a year, effectively ending its career.

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