LANCASTER – The Lancaster City Council unanimously approved an ordinance on Tuesday that aims to curb sex trafficking by holding local motel and hotel owners responsible for activities that occur on their premises.
Lancaster’s Human Trafficking and Nuisance Motels ordinance declares it an unlawful public nuisance to “directly or indirectly maintain or permit the use of a motel for the purpose of human trafficking, sex trafficking, prostitution, lewdness or illegal gambling.” [View the ordinance here.]
“Any motel at which a nuisance occurs or is present… constitutes a nuisance motel, subject to abatement,” according to the ordinance.
The ordinance also states that every owner, operator, manager and employee shall be responsible for preventing the use of the motel for human trafficking, drug activity or other illegal activities. It lists various circumstances that could indicate illegal activity, including:
- Attempting to rent a room for less than twelve hours, or leaving after only a few hours;
- Paying with cash to avoid a paper trail;
- Attempting to rent a room without presenting valid identification;
- Reserving multiple rooms at once;
- Reserving a room for extended periods of time, but bringing few or no possessions;
- A guest who appears malnourished or physically abused;
- A guest who is dressed inappropriately for his/her age;
- Frequent guests coming and going;
- Frequent vehicles coming and going;
- The smell of marijuana, chemicals or other unusual odors coming from a room or rooms.
Owners, operators, managers and employees who suspect human trafficking or other illegal activity must notify the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station or the city’s Public Safety Department. Those who violate the ordinance shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and may be subject to an administrative citation of $1,000 for the first violation and $5,000 for subsequent violations, according to the ordinance. [View the ordinance here.]
The ordinance also allows the city of Lancaster to “utilize all other legal remedies to abate a nuisance motel, including criminal proceedings, business license suspension or revocation, and civil injunctive relief… which allows for closing the premises for up to one year and obtaining a civil penalty of up to $25,000,” according to a city staff report.
In moving forward with the new ordinance, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris suggested that the language be revised in the future to clearly distinguish between adults and minors involved in sex trafficking. The latter was essentially child molestation, he said.
“If there’s some way we can bulldoze one of these hotels for aiding and abetting child molestation — and I’m dead serious — I want to bulldoze the hotel,” Parris said.