By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — The owner of The Manor Motel wants police to help remove non-paying guests and will make his case before selectmen tonight.
Motel owner Dick Messina’s disagreement with town officials isn’t so much about whether police will help, but when.
Messina believes he is entitled to police help as necessary under state law as an innkeeper.
But town officials maintain landlord-tenant laws apply in cases where people have established residency and Messina needs to take those evictions through the court system. The town’s attorney is expected to back their view.
Messina said case law is lacking, so he’s prepared to go to court, though he hopes that is avoided.
“My intention in going to court would be to have them interpret who does what or when,” Messina said.
This isn’t the first time the issue has arisen with The Manor Motel.
The town and Messina reached an understanding four years ago, but earlier this year they had a dispute over a tenant eviction. Messina had to go to court and has asked the town to pay his expenses, about $1,500.
“We recently had an issue where we had an impasse and we didn’t get anywhere,” Messina said.
“We felt we followed the 2008 understanding agreed to by the board of selectmen and he disagreed,” Town Administrator David Sullivan said.
In reviewing the matter, police concluded the hotel guest in question had established residency at The Manor Motel, Sullivan said.
Police consider a checklist of items, such as whether a vehicle is registered with the town, to determine if a person is a resident.
If someone has been there for a day or two, police can respond because they are stealing services by failing to pay their bill, Sullivan said.
But, if a person is there for a month and has taken such actions such as registering a car and enrolling children in school, they have become a tenant, he said.
“He doesn’t agree with us,” Sullivan said.
Messina has owned the motel, located near the Salem town line, for 33 years. The motel has 60 units. There are kitchenettes, so guests regularly stay longer than a night or two.
Messina said he has some people who have been there for years. A three- to six-month stay is common, he said.
Guests have included retirees, contractors working on projects in the area, new divorcees, fire victims needing an emergency home, or people down and out on welfare.
They pay $235 to $275 a week for units with heat, hot water, electricity and 200 channels of satellite TV.
He said the motel provides a humanitarian service for the community, with a food pantry and clothes available for guests in need.
“We’re a budget place. Absolutely spotless and well maintained,” he said.
His problem as a business owner is those who take advantage of him and fail to pay their bill.
“Squatters. They know the system,” Messina said.
The motel owner indicated he understands police have limited resources and want to focus them on crime.
Police records show 332 public safety calls over three years at The Manor Motel. Twenty-seven resulted in arrests.
The owner said he strives for a good relationship with police and is responsive to problems.
“We try to nip that in the bud at the beginning,” Messina said.
He stressed he just wants to make sure selectmen are part of the town policy discussion and that any court action would be a friendly petition aimed at resolving the problem.
He’s not expecting selectmen to make a decision tonight, although they could.
“I think it will be a fact-finding thing,” Messina said.