City declares Oaklawn Inn unhabitable, forces residents out
DANVILLE — Nathaniel Gentry thought he would be spending his Fourth of July holiday grilling with friends. Instead, the 58-year-old veteran is searching for a place to live.
On Tuesday, city officials shut down the Oaklawn Inn on East Main Street, deeming it uninhabitable due to various code violations, including the lack of a working fire-alarm system, according to Mayor Scott Eisenhauer.
City officials posted notices Tuesday morning on the doors of the approximately 30 rooms at the hotel, which accommodates short-term and long-term stays.
Gentry, who's retired, has been living there for more than a year.
The notices on the doors state, "Keep Out, Uninhabitable," and letters posted on some of the doors explain that residents must be out by noon today and are not allowed back onto the premises after that.
Eisenhauer said the owners of the Oaklawn Inn, Roger Patel and his wife, were notified Tuesday of two issues: They failed to meet the city's deadline to clean up debris from a June 2 fire that destroyed the hotel annex across the street from the main facility and also failed to abate code violations at the hotel's main building, rendering it uninhabitable and the hotel's license invalid. No one was injured in last month's fire, and investigators never determined the cause of the blaze.
Eisenhauer said shutting down the main facility on Tuesday is a separate issue from cleanup of the fire site. He said the city has offered extensions in the past on the code violations at the Oaklawn Inn's main facility, but some of those violations still exist.
"Certainly the most critical violation is the absence of a fire-alarm system," said Eisenhauer, who added that he could not answer whether the annex also was lacking an alarm system before the fire.
"I don't want to comment on that, because I don't know the answers to that question," he said.
Eisenhauer said that in another situation that's separate from the Oaklawn Inn, the Patel family's other business, the Danville Bar and Grill at 1827 E. Main St., which is across the street from the hotel and adjacent to the annex site, is no longer operating as of Sunday. He said the Patel family voluntarily closed it because its previous liquor license expired Saturday, and the city denied its application for a renewal because of violations. Eisenhauer would not disclose the nature of the violations at that business.
"We are still investigating the violations, so I'm not in a position to disclose what those are; however, what we have identified to date was enough for us to deny their application," he said.
Eisenhauer said shutting down the Oaklawn Inn is not in reaction to the fire at the annex.
"It's all just coincidence of timing," he said. "They were scheduled for reinspection, and it's also the time of year that the fire division was doing inspections on all hotels throughout the community, and all of this came about through those different inspections."
At the Oaklawn Inn, Eisenhauer said, city officials have been pursuing violations for some time. He said city inspectors had determined that the inn's fire-alarm system was not in compliance. Once it is out of compliance, he said, the business must install a new system to meet all codes and standards. He said city officials gave the owners a deadline to, at a minimum, identify and contract with a company to install a new fire-alarm system, and that deadline has passed without completion of an agreement for work to be done.
Roger Patel and his wife were both at the Oaklawn Inn on Tuesday afternoon but declined to comment. The Patels live above the hotel office, and Mr. Patel said that they are not required to move out of the facility.
However, all hotel guests are required to be out by noon today, which left some of the residents feeling as if they are being unjustly treated.
Gentry, who found out Tuesday morning when the notice was taped to his door, said he's surprised the city would give residents only 24 hours to move, especially when today is a holiday. Gentry just paid his $500 monthly rent on Sunday, having no idea he wouldn't have a place to stay in just two days. He said he asked the owners about getting his rent back and was told that they're trying to work something out with city officials.
Gentry said some residents have health problems, no relatives to help or no means of moving their belongings, especially in such a short amount of time.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the city's Human Relations Administrator Sandra Houston went out to the Oaklawn Inn to make arrangements for any residents there, which included Dannie and Barbara Carmean.
Dannie Carmean spent all morning on his cellphone trying to find a new place for himself and his wife, who has health issues, is on oxygen and uses a motorized wheelchair. The Carmeans were calling, with little luck, all the hotels in the Danville area as well as friends, apartment complexes and Realtors, trying to find an accessible place that they could afford and move in to on such short notice without a vehicle.
Eisenhauer said Houston put the Carmeans and other residents at the inn at that moment on a city bus that took them to the Salvation Army, where they were provided with information about services available to them, and from there they were placed in area hotels, free of charge, for the next few days, giving them time to make other living arrangements.