HUNTSVILLE — The embattled Oneida Family Motel will soon reopen.
However, that will not happen until the motel’s owners and management make a lengthy number of changes that were agreed upon by both the owners and by the local district attorney’s office.
The motel has been closed since April 18, when it was raided by local and state law enforcement and its tenants evicted. That move came after Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton issued a temporary injunction, in which he sided with a petition filed by 8th Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler that the property should be declared a public nuisance. Effler’s court filing followed an investigation by Oneida Police Department, which has responded to numerous calls at the motel in recent years, with criminal offenses ranging from drug trafficking to domestic violence to sex crimes.
Chancellor Elizabeth Asbury, who presided over the case in Sexton’s stead, issued her final order on the case Wednesday, July 11, in which she accepted an agreement that had been signed off on by both the motel’s owners — Chris and Nada Yousif of Dandridge, Tenn. — and Effler.
In the agreement, the owners agree with Effler that the allegations made in the original court petition are true, and that the property is a public nuisance. They also agree to take action to make a list of changes to the property before it reopens. Those changes were requested by Effler and Oneida Chief of Police Darryl Laxton.
There are 20 changes that the motel must adhere to. Perhaps most notably, the Yousifs have agreed to refund money to tenants who had prepaid but were evicted on April 18. They have also agreed to reimburse the Town of Oneida $3,000 for the costs of the nuisance action, and to keep city and county property taxes current.
The agreement also stipulates that the motel will cooperate with police investigations by maintaining surveillance video and providing it upon request, creating a no trespass list that law enforcement can add to, which means persons committing criminal offenses on the property may not be allowed to return, and by reporting suspicious activity to police.
Notably, the motel has agreed to not allow anyone to rent a room who has a residence within 50 miles of Oneida, and will provide documentation and a list of occupants to law enforcement upon request. The motel has agreed to require identification and proof of residency prior to renting a room in order to avoid renting to local tenants.
The Yousifs have also agreed to axe long-term accommodations; under terms of the agreement, no person will be allowed to rent a room for longer than two weeks in any six-month period. The motel will limit occupancy to two persons per bed and no more than four persons in any room.
Additionally, the motel has agreed to several changes that affect the environment and aesthetics of the property, including the removal of a dead pine tree that hovers over the two-story portion of the motel, removing all litter from the property and keeping the grounds clean, which includes weekly mowing from March through October, and not allowing abandoned or disabled vehicles to remain on the property for longer than 24 hours.
Under the agreement, the motel must obtain a sewage inspection and fix any deficiencies that are uncovered by that inspection, and must connect to the city’s sewer lines. The motel must also pass health code inspections and provide annual reports, and pass fire, codes and electrical inspections, as well. The motel has agreed to pass entomology and pest inspections and provide annual reports. Finally, the old swimming pool on the property will either be filled in or maintained to code.
Lastly, no pets or animals of any kind will be allowed on the motel grounds, except for certified service animals.
The Yousifs are being assessed court costs associated with the case.
Formerly Tobe’s Motel, the Oneida Family Motel was once a prized landmark in Oneida, adorning postcards and lauded as the prime lodging accommodation for visitors to the area.
In recent years, however, that motel has fallen into a state of disrepair, with allegations of lice and bed bug infestations. Oneida Police Department records indicate a large pile of discarded mattresses and bedding behind the motel, and an incident last year in which raw sewage was being pumped into a storm drain behind the restaurant that is on the property. Frequent police presence has been required at the motel in recent years, which had become a haven for criminal activity. An Independent Herald investigation in early 2017 found that police had been on the property 169 different times in a 365-day period. Effler’s court petition in April revealed that law enforcement calls to the motel had actually increased since then.
Workers were already present at the motel by Wednesday afternoon, where rooms that had been boarded up since April were being reopened and signs denoting the motel closed by court order were being removed.
There was no timeline specified for the conditions to be fully met and the motel officially open for business.