Overnight guests in Allen County will soon be able to view a public scoring and grading system of area hotels.
Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health board members unanimously passed new regulations Monday that will establish standards for the lodging industry.
There were previously no county laws governing hotels. The Department of Health has never had a formal standard in place. Instead, inspections were complaint-driven, said Mindy Waldron, department administrator for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health.
Under the new ordinance, sanitation standards would be clearly defined for area motels and hotels, with a scoring and report card that would be easily accessible for guests to view in the front lobby of each hotel, Waldron said.
The new regulations are necessary if Fort Wayne is to protect its multimillion dollar tourist industry, said Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne.
When all of the county’s 60 hotels are booked during large events, some people get pushed “into some seedy hotels,” he said.
O’Connell became alarmed when, after a large convention, he saw that Fort Wayne was “getting trashed on the Internet on such sites as Trip Advisor, he said.
“By and large, we have a lot of great properties with the highest standards, but some are not up to standard,” he said, “and when we get full, the two mix.”
Mike Nutter, board member of Visit Fort Wayne and president of the TinCaps, also had a few hotel horror stories to relate.
“I constantly get the same message from visiting teams: people are so friendly, businesses are honest and ethical, it’s a great ballpark – but your hotels need work,” Nutter said.
Over the last four years, 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.
Allen County Commissioners must give final approval of the law, which would take effect Jan. 1. The new standards would include:
•Hotels 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 have 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 ranging from $25 to $500. The $500 fine would be levied only after an administrative hearing and only if the owner willfully violates the ordinance.
The health department would not need to hire extra staff or require more funding, Waldron said.
Inspections will be handled by Dave Fiess, director of Vector Control and Environmental Services for the Department of Health, she said.
The ordinance would not apply to bed-and-breakfast establishments, which are governed by state law.