NEW PORT RICHEY — A magistrate on Wednesday held a U.S. 19 motel owner legally accountable for drug activity on his property, making him the first under a new ordinance to have his property flagged as a nuisance to the community.
During a quasi-judicial hearing at New Port Richey City Hall, magistrate Joseph Poblick deemed the Travel Inn, at 7523 U.S. 19, a nuisance after the city presented him with four drug arrests that occurred on the property within a 13-day period in September. Poblick ordered owner Dineshbhai Patel to present a written action plan for combatting the drug activity, but did not levy a $1,000 fine the city sought.
Ordering an action plan is the starting enforcement tier in the ordinance passed in June by New Port Richey council members in response to growing complaints of drugs and prostitution, especially along U.S. 19. If a property owner does not comply with plans submitted to the magistrate, mounting crime can lead to liens, fines and even business closures.
During the hearing Monday, Assistant City Attorney Nicole Nate said the four drug arrests within a narrow time frame illustrate the problems on the property. The cases include an arrest of a woman leaving one room's bathroom where officers found 20 grams of crack cocaine, hand-to-hand drug deals in the parking lot, a man arrested on a warrant who was also found holding cocaine and the synthetic drug spice, according to police reports.
Patel's attorney, Adam Carter, argued that Patel should not be held responsible for drug activity he did not know about and could not see from his office. Carter added his client also cannot violate people's rights by searching them or their rooms to root out illegal activity.
Carter said Patel has already taken steps to combat illegal activity by increasing lighting and making multiple rounds daily on the property.
Nate countered that under the city's ordinance a property owner's knowledge of drug activity is not a factor; only at least three documented arrests within a six-month period on a particular property are needed to seek a nuisance citation. She also disputed Carter's claim that Patel would be violating people's rights by monitoring customers at his own motel.
"This is private property. The owner is the captain of his ship," she said.
Poblick also issued an order for a residential property owner to a submit an action plan after law enforcement made three drug arrests at 6109 Georgia Ave., including the dismantling of a marijuana grow operation. Owner Glenn Gasner apologized for the actions of his tenants in the rental.
"I had no idea any of this was happening," he said.