SOUTH PORTLAND — A judge has issued an order blocking the city from shutting down two low-budget motels on Route 1 this week for alleged repeated incidents of illegal activity in the last year.

The owners of The Knights Inn and the Maine Motel filed a lawsuit last week in Cumberland County Superior Court seeking to overturn the City Council’s decision not to renew their lodging establishment licenses, which expire Thursday.

Justice Thomas Warren issued an order late Tuesday prohibiting the closures until he can hear preliminary facts of the case on Friday and act on the motel owners’ request for a temporary restraining order, according to court documents.

The city is expected to file its response to the lawsuit on Thursday. The hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday.

The council decided May 15 not to renew the operating licenses because of several incidents of alleged prostitution or drug-related activity at the family-owned-and-operated motels.

The council voted 5-2 and 7-0, respectively, not to renew licenses for The Knights Inn, at 634 Main St., owned by Kantilal Patel, and the Maine Motel, at 606 Main St., owned by Ibrahim Dhamdachhawala.

In the lawsuit, filed by attorney David Lourie of Cape Elizabeth, the owners claim that the council’s action against the Main Street motels and the city ordinance on which it was based are discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Lourie also argued that without a judge’s swift intervention, “the owners will suffer immediate and irreparable harm, as they will be required to cancel reservations and shut down their motels, or they risk enforcement and penalties for operating without a city license.”

The owner-occupied motels are in the center of Thornton Heights, a residential neighborhood on the west side of South Portland, where homeowners increasingly have asked the city to respond to their concerns.

In so-called “findings of fact” that the council unanimously approved May 22, City Attorney Sally Daggett recounted the testimony and rare closure recommendations of Police Chief Ed Googins that prompted the council’s action.

The findings focused on two prostitution incidents at The Knights Inn – one that resulted in an arrest – and three overdoses and a SWAT team drug raid at the Maine Motel. One of the overdoses resulted in a death and four people were arrested in the drug raid.

Googins sought to impose conditions on the motels, asking them to install video surveillance in public areas and undergo police training to identify and report potential criminal activity. Both Googins and Lourie said the owners had indicated they wanted to abide by the conditions.

City officials said the repeated calls for service to the police department triggered a city ordinance that allows operating licenses to be denied, suspended or revoked for repeats of such incidents as breaches of peace, disorderly conduct and other violations of law by anyone on the premises.

Lourie has asked the court to overturn the council’s action “so as not to hold the owners responsible for unproven conduct or events merely appearing in police incident reports, of which (the owners) have no prior knowledge and have no control.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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