Jacksonville motel tenants given hours to vacate

JFRD says fire marshal, code enforcement found unsafe, hazardous conditions during inspection

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dozens of people renting rooms at the Zen Living Suites near University Boulevard and Interstate 95 were told they had to vacate by 5 p.m. Tuesday because code enforcement deemed the entire property unsafe to live.

Many of the people who News4Jax spoke with were angry because they said they were told they had to leave just hours before 5 p.m.

“(We were told) we have until 5 today — we found at 1 this afternoon — to find out where we are going to go, what our next move is,” said DeWayne Jones, who told News4Jax he was paying $300 a week to live at the motel.

While some made arrangements to go to another motel that may cost more to stay, others said they are now homeless.

News4Jax saw groups of people lined up at the front office to be refunded for rent that they paid in advance. People could also be seen walking away with their belongings.

“One minute we’re good,” Joseph Powell said. “Then they were telling us we had to go.”

According to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, the fire marshal and code enforcement inspected the complex and found unsafe and hazardous conditions as it related to electrical wiring and fire protection systems. Unpermitted work was also found. As a result, cease-and-desist and stop-work orders were issued, and those living at the complex said they were told they had to pack up and leave.

Ailsa Mattox told News4Jax she was not only living at the Zen Living Suites but working there, as well. She lost her home and her job at the same time.

“I have no clue. No idea,” Mattox said when News4Jax asked her what she’s going to do. “I’m also taking care of my disabled father and my husband. He has a job, but I’m taking care of both of them, and we have nowhere to go.”

Stephanie Lassetter said she and her family moved to Jacksonville from Tennessee after their home was destroyed by a tornado and flooding this spring. She said she and her husband were paying $875 per month to stay at the motel until they could save up enough money to rent a house. Despite the conditions at the motel, she said it was the most affordable option for them.

“This place has been going through a lot. They’ve had electrical problems and plumbing problems. We’ve been placed four times in the hotel. We finally get into a room and then this happens,” Lassetter said.

News4Jax twice attempted to talk to the property manager but was stopped at the front door and was told he was not available.

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