The owners of Brownwood’s Budget Inn & Suites are appealing a ruling that would require them to pay $97,000 in civil penalties due to code violations.
In May a state district court affirmed the fine, which was originally levied in May 2016 by the City of Brownwood Building and Standards Commission. In a city memo obtained by the Bulletin, Budget Inn property owners L.T. Hospitality, Inc. were initially given until July 2016 to complete or show “significant progress” on an asbestos survey, asbestos abatement, electrical repair, plumbing repair, completed fire alarm system and various room renovations including carpeting, paint, plumbing, light fixtures and bedding.
L.T. Hospitality filed suit against the city in response to the fines. They argue that the code violations occurred in unoccupied sections of the motel which are “not being used” and “do not even have utilities connected.”
“A property owner has a right to have a structure … that is not in compliance with city codes and regulations as long as it does not present a health and safety hazard to others,” the petition states. It says the Budget Inn is partitioned into three separate sections and that the one operational section is fully compliant and clean.
Thomas Ung is the president of L.T. Hospitality. On Monday his daughter Marilyn Ung spoke to the Bulletin while working at the Budget Inn, calling the fine “excessively large.”
“All the violations the city talks about were in a back building that we’re no longer using,” Ung said. “The fine was about the electrical work we needed.”
Ung said L.T. Hospitality has been improving the derelict portions of the motel and plans to open them again in the future. She claimed the city has “harassed” her family’s company and discouraged contractors from helping with repairs.
When asked why the city would have done so, Ung alleged a racial animus. Her parents are Cambodian immigrants, and their petition to the district court references a “language barrier” that led to “undue hardship” in the case.
“I can’t stand racism,” Ung said. “If I see it, I’m going to say something.”
Brownwood city manager Emily Crawford and city attorney Pat Chesser both declined to comment on the allegations due to the pending litigation between the city and L.T. Hospitality.
Ung also referenced a Friday KTXS report that linked the fine to a failed health inspection at SAWA Japanese Steak House, which shares the Budget Inn’s 515 E. Commerce location. SAWA, Ung said, is not owned by L.T. Hospitality and never has been — it simply rents its space from the company.
The KTXS report references an August 2015 inspection by the Brownwood Health Department that found 12 health code violations at SAWA. The Health Department said that SAWA had been inspected again as recently as mid-May 2017 and passed with a 96, a score it described as “normal” and “good.”
Health Department officials said the department does not issue fines but does revoke licenses for flagrant violations. They said they would not allow SAWA or any restaurant to continue operation if it were deemed unsafe.
The report also mentions roaches, bugs and fleas found in Budget Inn rooms, but Ung insisted that “no customer has ever gone into a room with fleas or [bugs].”
In May’s ruling the district court said “there is substantial evidence to support the decision of the City of Brownwood Building and Standards Commission” regarding L.T. Hospitality. Now the courts must decide again whether the fine is warranted.