NIAGARA FALLS – The pictures on a YouTube video called “Review of the Niagara Rainbow Motel” show a dirty and disgusting flop house with holes in the walls, rampant mold, rusty sinks, filthy rugs and dirty beds – all very different from what is advertised on the motel’s website.
The video prompted an investigation by city building and electrical inspectors and Niagara County Health Department inspectors Wednesday. Inspectors declared 11 of the 24 rooms uninhabitable after they found dirty sheets and bedbugs, mold, unsafe electrical and no smoke detectors.
Niagara Falls Code Enforcement Officer Dennis Virtuoso said the rooms cannot be rented again until they are repaired.
The motel, located at 7900 Niagara Falls Blvd., is owned by Nasser “Joe” Alkhatib, who also owns an adult bookstore in Amherst.
Virtuoso dismissed any claims that the video shown on YouTube did not depict the Rainbow Motel, saying, “The exact same things we saw on the video, we found there. You see everything on the video – the dirty sheets, the conditions of the bathrooms, the mold.”
James J. Devald, Niagara County director of environmental health, said the motel has a history of violations, which have been corrected.
“We have been in there and have issued warning notices, and they have corrected the problems,” Devald said.
But he also noted that there are no listings for the public on these warnings.
“There’s listings online for restaurant inspections, but we don’t have anything online for hotels and motels. But they can always call us and ask,” Devald said.
Mayor Paul A. Dyster said the city inspectors received an unrelated tip, which prompted an online search for more information, and they uncovered the YouTube video, which he called very disturbing.
“We acted promptly when this data came to our attention,” the mayor said. “We can’t stop sleazy operators from trying to operate in a sleazy manner, but when something comes to our attention, we can certainly utilize our enforcement powers dramatically and rapidly to bring about change.”
The motel is well known to officers in the Niagara Falls Police Department.
The motel has seen nearly 50 calls per year over the past five years, ranging from arguments and domestic cases to narcotics. The leading complaint in the past year is customer disputes.
In an investigation from July of last summer, an Ecuadorean woman who spoke only Spanish told police the room was advertised at $25.99 a night and she was charged $257 for a one-night stay. When she tried to leave 45 minutes later and get a refund, she was refused. Police also believed the woman was brought to the motel by an unlicensed cab driver who was working with the motel to take advantage of foreign guests.
Niagara Falls Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto said his department was looking into this allegation but said it is difficult to prosecute when someone leaves town.
“The rooms that I saw, the ones that were condemned, were absolutely in deplorable condition,” DalPorto said. “It’s not something that the City of Niagara Falls wants to put out there to tourists.”
“This kind of demonstrates the power of the Internet for good or bad,” Dyster said of the city’s YouTube discovery. “Information travels very, very rapidly. In this case, these guys were trying to use the Internet to promote their business, and somebody came back at them and used the Internet to expose what was wrong with their business, and this ultimately helped us get on their trail and go out and do the enforcement.”
The person who posted the video in December made it very clear that buyers should beware, offering advice for anyone who is traveling and staying somewhere that has a no-refund policy, suggesting that visitors should ask to see their room in advance and should not trust the photos of rooms posted on the Internet.