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Closure Order Slapped on Troublesome Motel


CUDAHY — The Atlantis Motel, a seedy residential motel that had become a haven for drug users and prostitutes, was closed last week amid allegations that city officials had taken advantage of the temporary displacement of tenants to shut the facility.

Lynn Jackson, an attorney representing 19 tenants, filed a complaint in Superior Court on May 9, charging that the city misused its power when it ordered that the motel remain closed until numerous health and safety violations are corrected.

The tenants left voluntarily May 3 while owners fumigated the 40-room building on Atlantic Avenue, said Simon Chen, spokesman for motel owner Jau Huang. Chen said the residents were to return May 9. But he said city building officials ordered Huang to keep the motel closed because code violations, including poor wiring and gas leaks, threatened the safety of tenants.

During a hearing last week in Norwalk Superior Court, Jackson argued that the city could not shut down the motel without following procedures mandated by code, including a public hearing. But a Superior Court judge refused to order the owner to immediately reopen because he said the court could not supersede the authority of city officials attempting to enforce their health and safety codes.

In the meantime, the tenants, nearly all of whom are on welfare and owed several weeks worth of back rent, signed an agreement with the motel owner giving up their rights as tenants in exchange for $350, Chen and Jackson said.

"I suspect there was a tacit agreement between the city and the hotel owners that they would take advantage (of the fumigation) to close the place," Jackson said. "They betrayed the tenants."

Although city leaders have made no secret that problems at the motel have been a continual source of frustration, City Manager Jack Joseph denied that there was any agreement to close it.

"We didn't do this for the Atlantis owners," Joseph said. "While they were closed, we inspected and determined that before they could reopen they had to take care of some hazardous conditions."

The motel will be closed for about two months for renovations, Chen said. He estimated that at least $200,000 will be spent for general cleanup and replacing windows, and for buying new furniture and air conditioners.

No customers will be allowed to live permanently at the motel and a management company is being sought to keep watch over the facility, he said.

City leaders have waged a persistent campaign to force Huang to either clean up or close the Atlantis. City building and safety officials, county health inspectors and neighboring business people have said the motel has been plagued for years with unruly tenants whose illegal activities disrupt the lives of other tenants and neighbors.

Lt. Robert Hoffman of the East Los Angeles sheriff's station said there were constant problems with drugs and prostitution. In a report filed earlier this year, deputies said they had spent about 260 hours in two months responding to calls at the Atlantis.

Huang bought the motel in May, 1988, but was unable to find a manager who could control the tenants, Chen said. Many were in the process of being evicted, he said. Huang has tried unsuccessfully to sell the motel, Chen said.

But Chen said that if all goes according to plan, there should be no more problems at the Atlantis Motel. "Even if business is slow and we lose money, we have to do this," Chen said. "We don't want any more trouble."

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