BELEN–A problem property in the city of Belen was shut down Wednesday afternoon after city fire and police officials deemed it a nuisance.
Charles Cox, the deputy chief of operations with the Belen Fire Department, said two fire inspectors walked into the Super 8 Hotel, 428 S. Main St., Wednesday morning to perform a regular inspection. He said they immediately noticed several code violations and called him to the hotel.
Cox said when he was the fire marshal two years ago, he found more than 80 violations at the hotel, ranging from alarm and smoke alarm systems not being tested to exit signs not working.
“We cited them but we didn’t shut them down at the time; we gave them a chance to get it fixed,” Cox said. “We told the owner about the issues and he said they would get it fixed, but the problems have become worse.”
Cox said there are a variety of electrical problems at the Super 8 Hotel, but instead of addressing them, the hotel staff has made things worse. One example, Cox noted, was they have been running extension cords through the walls for lights in several rooms.
Belen Police Chief James Harris had his officers knock on every door at the hotel to inform the residents and customers they had to leave the premises. The chief said he will be working to declare the property a nuisance by filing a complaint in municipal court.
“We’ve had multiple calls here for drug overdoses; we’re constantly receiving word that there is prostitution here and other nefarious activities going on here, and we’re going to do what we can to shut this place down permanently,” Harris said Wednesday.
Cox said he has the authority to shut down the hotel because he’s deemed it a “severe fire hazard.” He has informed the owner of the hotel it cannot reopen until the criminal nuisance portion has been taken care of and all fire code violations have been rectified.
“Before anyone can move back in here, it has to be inspected and brought up to code,” Cox said.
The deputy chief said there are more violations this time than the previous time the building was inspected, and they were still counting the violations Wednesday evening.
“I have my two inspectors in there now, and we’re going through all the rooms,” Cox said. “It appears there’s going to be more violations than the previous count.”
Harris said as he walked through the property Wednesday, he found rooms “that are completely unlivable.”
“This place has been nothing but a nuisance for the last few years,” the police chief said. “Along with the drug activity and prostitution, we’ve recovered stolen property and vehicles here.
“This place is just a den of criminal activity, and it’s just gotten to the point that it’s a nuisance. I’m going to do everything I can to declare it as such.”
Harris said before he files a nuisance complaint in court, he will need to seek approval from the Belen City Council.
“This, right here, is a big step toward that,” the chief said.
But Cox said the fire code gives the fire department the authority to close the hotel down because of the amount of violations they discovered.
“It’s a danger to life and property,” Cox said.
As the fire department inspectors continued their assessment of the building late Wednesday afternoon, several Belen police officers were knocking on doors, informing residents and customers of the situation and telling them they had to leave.
Harris said one man, who had been living in the hotel for 14 years, has piles of items in his room, describing it as hoarding situation.
“He’s somewhere; we haven’t been able to locate him right now,” Harris said.
The police chief said most of the customers at the hotel are residents of Belen, and utilize the hotel for criminal activity.
“They will rent to legitimate customers, but it’s the non-legitimate customers that we have a problem with, and it’s the largest amount of clientele this place has,” Harris said.
Attempts to reach the owner of the Super 8 Hotel by the News-Bulletin were unsuccessful. According to its website, they invite people to “Book your wedding party, sports team, or other group travel at our hotel.”
Also on the hotel’s website were five reviews, all criticizing the establishment. One former customer wrote in June, “Worst experience of my life. Honestly felt scared/unsafe both nights. A hostel not a hotel. Nasty, dirty, roach infested, broken down hotel that should be condemned. Have crackheads living in hotel. A nightmare of a place! Please do not stay here, you match catch a disease or something!”
Another former customer wrote in March 2021, “No security. We were placed on the bottom floor by the back exit. Exit door has the lock removed and handle removed. It did not close. Anyone coming by could see this …”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.