BELEN — A hotel property in the city of Belen was shut down last week 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., on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 11, to perform a regular inspection and didn’t finish until 8 p.m. He said they immediately noticed multiple fire 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.”
When contacted by the News-Bulletin, the owner of the Super 8 Hotel, Bhubendra Modi, said he couldn’t comment, and referred the newspaper to speak with his son, who did not return phone messages.
Cox said there were multiple 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 Fire Marshal Kenneth Vance said Tuesday he was completing the report and he didn’t have a final count of the number of the violations at the Super 8 Hotel, but estimated it’s more than 100.
Vance said the minor violations included missing or broken outlet covers throughout the building, but he is more concerned about the major violations, which range from multiple exposed wires and the sprinkler and fire alarms systems hadn’t been tested in more than two years.
He also said the building’s fire extinguishers were out of service and the majority of smoke detectors were missing, damaged or disabled, making fire protection nearly nonexistent in the hotel. The fire doors were also damaged and altered.
“There was damage in walls, which makes fire travel quicker,” Vance said. “As a whole, it’s a dangerous situation if you’re not protecting your occupants and employees.”
The fire marshal said he was going to be speaking with Cox on Tuesday about where to go from here regarding possible citations and a time frame they will give the hotel’s owner to fix the problems.
“It could take them a while to fix these violations. I don’t know how long that could take them,” Vance said. “We have to give them time to correct the issues before handing out citations, unless a different decision is made.”
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 last week.
Cox said he has the authority to shut down the hotel because he’s deemed it a “severe fire hazard.” He 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.
Harris said as he walked through the property last 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.”
Both Harris and Cox presented what they found to the Belen City Council Monday night at its regular meeting.
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.
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.