City board denies hotel’s petition to review second closure

A request by Knights Inn for the Seymour Board of Public Works and Safety to grant a petition to review its second building closure recently was unanimously denied.

In September 2023, the Jackson County Health Department found many of the rooms at the hotel on the east side of Seymour to be deficient and not compliant with county housing code minimum housing standards.

Issues documented included filthy conditions, including roaches, odor and human feces on the floor, mold and water damage, along with broken windows, lack of ventilation, unsanitary conditions due to backed-up toilets, broken sinks, the HVAC system in need of repair, unsafe flooring, exposed plumbing, rotten wood and exposed tack strips.

The city issued an emergency order under two sections of state code on Oct. 11 to close Knights Inn. The order was supported by the Seymour Fire Department, Seymour Police Department, Seymour Department of Planning and Zoning, Jackson County Health Department, Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office and Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Knights Inn reopened in January of this year until the Seymour Fire Department issued another building closure of the hotel on Feb. 1 after an inspection on Jan. 26.

On Feb. 8, Knights Inn filed a petition for review with the city. As the authority of the fire department, the board of public works and safety is responsible for granting or denying petitions involving the department.

“Basically, today is going to be a presentation of procedural history and brief arguments from both sides,” city attorney Christina Engleking told the board during Thursday’s meeting at city hall. “You decide either to deny their petition for review, in which case we’ll have to notify Knights Inn and their counsel of the denial and give them an outline of procedures in place by law for them to seek administrative review of that denial.

“Or you can grant the petition for review, in which case we can get an administrative law judge involved to review the closure order and/or enter into informal proceedings with Knights Inn and their attorney to settle the issue,” she said.

Ashok Patel, who has owned Knights Inn since 2018, and his lawyer, Jeff McQuary, attended the meeting via Zoom.

McQuary said Knights Inn has been a functioning business since the 1980s and that Patel and his son have passed all routine inspections with only minor violations in the last five years.

“In the fall, the fire department conducted an inspection and a few days later closed the building permanently, depriving them of their business and also making 40 people homeless in one afternoon,” McQuary said. “Since then, (Patel has) corrected all of the problems of any significance in two of the three buildings.”

McQuary said one building has structural problems, but Patel could operate the hotel without that third building. He said the other two buildings have minor, nonlife-threatening problems, such as smoke detector batteries that have run down.

“One of the major violations cited by the fire department was that they believed a standpipe sprinkler system was removed,” McQuary said. “This building does not and has never had a standpipe sprinkler system. It is a motel-style building with no interior corridors.”

McQuary said Indiana fire code does not require buildings with no interior corridors to have standpipe sprinkler systems; however, Engleking said Indiana fire code has changed since the hotel was constructed in 1988. She said per Indiana fire code, automatic sprinkler systems should be provided throughout all buildings with a Group R fire area. This includes all transient and nontransient hotels.

Following McQuary’s comments, Engleking told the board Knights Inn could still potentially seek to present this matter to an administrative law judge should the board deny the petition.

Board member Dave Earley asked Engleking if having nontransient guests is improper usage of the building, referring back to McQuary’s comment that people lost their homes. Engleking said as the building is currently zoned, it is not meant for long-term tenancy.

Engleking asked Assistant Fire Chief Anthony Walker if sufficient effort has been made to correct the violations since the building closure order issued on Feb. 1. Walker said there have been some changes, but there are still enough violations for the building to be considered hazardous to people staying there.

He also said every inspection of the building has been completed by the fire department, planning and zoning department and health department, and each time, each department generated a long list of violations.

McQuary said inspectors have not told Patel what they consider to be violations. Engleking refuted this, saying Walker hand-delivered a copy of an inspection report on Jan. 30.

“With a little work on their behalf, they should be able to figure out what’s wrong and what needs to be prepared,” Earley said. “We can’t hold their hand through a remodel. They have to have some skin in the game also.”