2018-06-01 / Front Page

Immigrant families face city

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


The Dhamdachhawala family, owners since 2006 of the Maine Motel at 606 Main St. in South Portland, including, from left, Akila, holding newborn Aaliyah, patriarch Ibraham, Jana, age 10, matriarch Nasima, Ayat, 5, Juned, Aamna, 11, Affan, 10 months, Asafiya, Jarina Kathawala, and Javed, pose outside the budget inn on Tuesday, May 29. The family fears that if a May 15 city council decision to deny renewal of the motel's lodging establishment license is not reversed, it will not only shutter their business, it will put them out of a home, as all but Kathawala, who co-owns the nearby Pine Haven Motel, live on the property. (Duke Harrington photo) The Dhamdachhawala family, owners since 2006 of the Maine Motel at 606 Main St. in South Portland, including, from left, Akila, holding newborn Aaliyah, patriarch Ibraham, Jana, age 10, matriarch Nasima, Ayat, 5, Juned, Aamna, 11, Affan, 10 months, Asafiya, Jarina Kathawala, and Javed, pose outside the budget inn on Tuesday, May 29. The family fears that if a May 15 city council decision to deny renewal of the motel's lodging establishment license is not reversed, it will not only shutter their business, it will put them out of a home, as all but Kathawala, who co-owns the nearby Pine Haven Motel, live on the property. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — For Javed Dhamdachhawala the month of May has been a real roller coaster, full of highs and lows as great as any he has ever known.

On May 18 his twin daughters, Aaliyah and Aliza, were born. That’s a proud moment for any parent, although made tense in this instance by the fact that, as of Tuesday, May 29, one of his baby girls had yet to come home from the hospital.


Javed Dhamdachhawala, co-owner, with his family, of the Maine Motel at 660 Main St. in South Portland, mans the front desk of the inn. Until recently, the site had four security cameras, but in an attempt to better police the property, the family installed another five, with three more put in on Tuesday, May 29, for 12 total. Dhamdachhawala said he was unaware of any issue or concern on the part of local police, including a desire that he install more surveillance equipment, until a letter sent in early April with his license renewal form, by which time Police Chief Ed Googins had already recommended against renewing the Maine Motel’s license, in a March 29 memo to the city clerk. (Duke Harrington photo) Javed Dhamdachhawala, co-owner, with his family, of the Maine Motel at 660 Main St. in South Portland, mans the front desk of the inn. Until recently, the site had four security cameras, but in an attempt to better police the property, the family installed another five, with three more put in on Tuesday, May 29, for 12 total. Dhamdachhawala said he was unaware of any issue or concern on the part of local police, including a desire that he install more surveillance equipment, until a letter sent in early April with his license renewal form, by which time Police Chief Ed Googins had already recommended against renewing the Maine Motel’s license, in a March 29 memo to the city clerk. (Duke Harrington photo) Now, he’s afraid that once released, she may not have a home to come to at all.

On May 15, the South Portland City Council voted unanimously to deny renewal of Dhamdachhawala’s lodging establishment license for the Maine Motel, a 23-room budget inn located at 606 Main St. During that session, the council issued new licenses for 15 other hotels, but voted 5-2 to also deny renewal for the Knights Inn, located just up the road from the Maine Motel, at 634 Main St.

Councilors Kate Lewis and Adrian Dowling voted agains the denial, preferring instead to tie possible conditions listed by the chief, such as installation of additional security cameras, to renewal of the license.

Both denials were made on the recommendation of Police Chief Ed Googins, who cited repeat instances of drug use and prostitution at the motels.

The council move, initially slated to take effect June 1, essentially shutters both businesses.

“This is very worrying for us,” said Dhamdachhawala, 40. “We have some guests who stay by the week and have no other home. This will put them out on the street. But this will also put us out, because this is not just our business, it is also our home. We do not know what we are going to do. I don’t even like to think about it.”

The family includes patriarch Ibrahim Dhamdachhawala who, with his wife Nasima, emigrated from India, working in the restaurant industry, striving initially to save money to eventually bring over his children, Javed, younger brother Juned, and their sister, Jarina Kathawala.

“Who doesn’t want to come to America,” said Juned during a family interview Tuesday. “Everybody wants to come to America. It is the good life. It is the dream.”

“Our father worked very hard,” Javed said. “He worked in restaurants for a long, long time, and that’s what he did here, too. Eventually he bought a restaurant, then a couple of restaurants. But eventually he got tired with that. As he got older that life was not easy on him. So, he decided to buy this, because it is something all of the family can run together.”

Ibrahim Dhamdachhawala bought the Maine Motel, which dates to 1920, with wings added in 1940 and 1959, for $1.2 million in 2006. The family of 12 – which includes the sons, their wives and three children, each, ranging in age from newborn to 11 – live in the middle section of the motel. All are U.S. citizens, either naturalized or by right of birth.

“They say that we are bad owners, that we do not care about any crime that might happen here. This I cannot understand,” Juned said. “My children live here. My little girl rides her bike around the parking lot. Of course I do not want crime, or drugs, or for a bad girl to come in a room.

“We try our best to run this place, but you cannot read somebody’s mind,” Juned said. “You do not know always what kind of person someone is, and you cannot know they have drugs on them they may use without searching them, which we can not do, of course. If we do suspect someone is doing something bad, we do always ask them to leave the next day. We say we’re are sorry, we cannot have you again.”

“But we cannot simply refuse a room to someone for no reason,” Javed. “That is not right.”

Patel has lived at Knight’s Inn for more than 30 years, managing it for a brother for many years before buying it outright in 2000. The motel, he said, does cater to a certain clientele, but weekly guests and homeless placed by the city are only a small part of the clientele and mostly in the winter months. “Most of the guests are working class tourists and folks in the area on construction jobs,” he said.

“Not everyone can afford to stay at the Mariott,” Patel said. “We work very hard to provide a nice place that people can afford.”

Googins said he elected earlier this year to conduct a review of all criminal activity at city motels, following what he referred to as “high profile incidents.”

The city’s fire chief and the health officer also review lodging establishment licenses, but made no recommendation against either motel targeted by Googins.

In documents supporting his recommendation to essentially shut down the two family-run motels, Googins, produced a report that showed 53 police calls to the Maine Motel between May 3, 2017 and March 12. However, the vast majority of those calls (19) were for traffic stops and crashes that happened to take place in the vicinity of the motel. Other calls included everything from animal complaints and serving court papers to motel residents – some guests, including otherwise homeless people placed by the city of Portland stay on a weekly basis – to dealing with intoxicated people and “general disturbances.” More concerning were four drug-related incidents, circled on the report by Googins. These included the overdose death of a 38-year-old male on July 10, 2017.

The report for Knights Inn, owned by Kantilal Patel, shows 51 incidents during the same time period, but include traffic stops made near the inn and other routine issues, like people refusing to leave the motel when asked. Those made up the bulk of the reports, although there were a few domestic disputes calls. However, in this case Googins circled two arrests for prostitution, on June 20, 2017, and on Jan. 27.

Googins said his recommendations for nonrenewal were the first such steps made in his 24-year tenure with the city. Although there were “many minor situations” at both motels, Googins said, each saw probably half a dozen to a dozen calls that he deemed serious or concerning.

“That’s the nature of the business and the clientele that frequent these establishments,” he said. “But my concern is around prostitution and drugs.

“The prostitution activity that we became aware of, they were oblivious to it in the motel,” Googins said. “Their lack of, if you will, paying attention to what’s going on, when we have a resident spotting that activity and reporting it to us, that’s a problem. When there’s a problem, we don’t want the neighbors to call us, we want them to call us.”

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