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Are Idaho hotels inspected by public health officials?

A woman's complaint about public health and safety issues at an area hotel led us to wonder: what are the regulations surrounding hotel cleanliness?

BOISE -- It's happened to a lot of us: we've booked a hotel room, got there and found it to be less than satisfactory - to put it nicely.

A woman reached out to KTVB's Morgan Boydston with concerns about a hotel near the Boise airport.

So how are hotels and motels regulated in Idaho?

What we found may surprise you.

The woman who called is from Portland, Oregon and was in town for just a night. She hopped on a booking website and found a cheap room with what she thought were advertised amenities. However, during her stay, serious health and safety flags were raised.

KTVB spoke to the manager of the hotel Phillips stayed at, but said he wasn't allowed to talk to us about her complaint or even their overall inspection process.

"I checked into the motel on Friday evening and I had some initial concerns because the water in the dispenser in the lobby appeared to be cloudy and had a very strong smell of chlorine," Susan Phillips, who is a Registered Nurse, said. "When I woke up and I could see better in the daylight, I immediately had some health concerns: cleanliness of the bathroom, mold, the linens were either stained or soiled - I don't know what it was. If it was bodily fluids my concern is this is one-way diseases spread."

Susan Phillips was appalled. So she went to hotel management, who she says seemed indifferent.

"I was pretty frustrated and it got me thinking: is there any basic standard for cleanliness when you check into a motel?"

KTVB asked that very question and found there aren't in Idaho.

"When it comes to hotels and motels in Idaho there are no state rules related to sanitation that are delegated to local health departments like Central District Health," Central District Health (CDH) Public Information Officer, Christine Myron, said.

There are building safety standards and buildings are checked by public safety officials such as fire departments and building inspectors to make sure they're meeting requirements and are up to code. But when it comes to cleanliness and sanitation, that's not the case.

"We can't go into a hotel or motel and inspect, even for sanitation-related conditions," Myron added.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare doesn't have jurisdiction, either. KTVB called the City of Boise, City of Meridian and Ada County and found they, too, do not have regulatory authority over hotels.

Myron says as far as she is aware, no local government agencies in the state have jurisdiction over hotel inspections; it is a self-regulated industry. Hotels can apply to be inspected and approved by AAA if they meet the requirements.

"I know it varies state to state but I would expect there to be a bare minimum standard for cleanliness just for the health of the customer and the public," Phillips told KTVB. "The health concerns - not the service, not the restaurant - the health concerns were the main issue and focus of thought."

CDH says they field calls from people concerned about bed bugs or cleanliness in hotels and motels and they'll reach out to the lodging facility to talk to management about how they could fix the problem.

"We know that the vast majority of hotels and motels in our area want to do the right thing, they want to provide a safe clean space for their guests, so they want to make it right. So we have a conversation with them and let them know what information we've received and talk about how they're going to kind of remedy that problem," Myron told KTVB, "We will offer them recommendations, we can answer questions they might have. In some cases we'll go out and do an on-site visit and talk with them. But it's not one of those situations where they have to allow us into a room if that's the source of the complaint."

Local health agencies don't have the authority to issue a violation.

"In the food safety realm, we post those inspection results to the website. Unfortunately, in this case, you can't look up the health department's report on a hotel. But I think there is some value in reading people's experiences," Myron added. "Unfortunately it's kind of one of those 'buyers beware', you know, you have to read those reviews, the good and the bad and follow your gut."

Phillips says she will be following her gut from now on.

"If you have a sense something is not right, listen to your instinct," she said.

Phillips didn't read the reviews before staying at the hotel but she's learned to always do her research and advises everyone to do the same.

"I had a higher expectation, I guess," Phillips added. "Moving forward I will be reading the reviews and personally I will be inspecting the room for cleanliness before I check in. I don't feel I should have to do that, that's not my place as a customer. But to keep myself safe I will be doing that in the future."

There is an exception for inspections in Idaho; CDH says if hotels have a restaurant or breakfast on-site officials can inspect food safety because they're typically required to have a permit.

A number of other states do have the authority to inspect lodging facilities and accommodations. To change that at the state level in Idaho, we are told it would have to go through legislation.

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