A Bangor motel wants a judge to decide whether it has to take in homeless guests paying for their rooms with city-issued vouchers.
The Travelodge on Odlin Road filed a lawsuit earlier this month in Penobscot County Superior Court after it received a notice from a legal aid group saying it and other motels had violated the Maine Human Rights Act when they turned away homeless guests with housing vouchers.
The judge’s decision could clarify what motels have to do when guests with housing vouchers show up and request a room. The city’s General Assistance program has long issued vouchers that recipients can use at hotels for temporary housing. Whether motels are obligated to accept such guests is especially relevant now as Bangor has seen its homeless population grow during the COVID-19 pandemic, and local shelters have had to reduce capacity to allow for social distancing.
On Feb. 8, Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which represents low-income clients, sent a notice of claim to the Travelodge manager and other Bangor motels claiming that state law prohibits hotels, motels and inns from discriminating against the recipents of public assistance.
“In light of the extraordinarily cold winter weather conditions, the issue presented by your alleged refusal to provide eligible public assistance recipients with access to a room is urgent,” the letter said.
Attorneys for the motel disagree.
In their complaint filed Feb. 18, they said the motel does not accept vouchers from programs that carry “onerous requirements,” without specifying the requirements with which it couldn’t comply. In addition, the complaint said, the motel would violate local zoning ordinances if it accepted long-term tenants under voucher programs.
The motel named 100 John Does as defendants in the lawsuit — those who tried to use housing vouchers at the establishment.
The complaint said that city employees now tell individuals who qualify for vouchers that Bangor-area hotels no longer accept them because of past problems with guests who paid using the vouchers.
Neither the motel’s attorney nor the city’s spokesperson returned requests for comment on the lawsuit or its allegations on Friday.