Judge orders Jackson hotel to be shut down in 72 hours

A Jackson Municipal Court judge has orded the Regency Hotel downtown to be shut down.
A Jackson Municipal Court judge has orded the Regency Hotel downtown to be shut down.(WLBT)
Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 7:08 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A Jackson Municipal Court judge has given a downtown Jackson hotel 72 hours to shut down.

Friday, Judge Jeff Reynolds ordered Jiau Ping Zhui to close the Regency Hotel for various violations of Jackson city code.

“Hotel occupants and guests expect and deserve that, when they choose to stay in a hotel within Jackson, the hotel is safe and compliant with all municipal codes, particularly those related to safety,” Reynolds wrote in a September 30 order obtained by WLBT. “This hotel falls appallingly short. Mold pervades the premises, including in at least 12 guest rooms. The main kitchen’s gas leak presents an extreme fire hazard... If a fire were to break out, the guests would have no clear path to safety due to multiple locked doors and no operable emergency lights.”

“That the defendant would allow guests to hold gatherings in this clearly unsafe environment shocks the conscience of this court,” he wrote.

The order states that Regency must immediately stop bringing in new tenants and notify all current residents to vacate the facility within 72 hours.

Zhui has 180 days to demolish the structure or bring it up to city code. If she does not, she could face 120 days behind bars.

Reynolds sentenced Zhui to jail time but suspended the sentence pending her compliance with the order.

The judge also imposed a $1 million secured bond, citing the high costs for repairs associated with the hotel, as well as the fact that Zhui may be a flight risk.

Additionally, Jackson Fire Department is ordered to find the source of the natural gas leak and have it shut off within 24 hours of receipt of the order.

“This death trap cannot be allowed to operate until brought up to the reasonable satisfaction of the city,” he wrote.

Chief Willie Owens said he had not seen the ruling and was not sure how severe the gas leak was. He said the fire department would comply with Reynold’s decision but could call in natural gas distribution company Atmos Energy to help.

WLBT reached out to the Regency for comment, but a person answering the phone said she could not talk.

Court documents reveal JFD had been called out to the facility numerous times since 2020, due to violations. Interim Planning and Development Director Chloe Dotson opened a case on the facility and noted continued violations during four inspections this summer.

“She [observed] many doors were locked with a chain and lock, impeding egress in the case of a fire, and testified about a section of the roof that had caved in, [as well as] the pervasive use of extension cords and exposed electrical wires,” the judge wrote.

The hotel was operating without a valid business privilege license, which requires the applicant to pass various inspections, Dotson told the court.

The property is located in Ward 7, which is represented by Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay.

She applauded the court’s decision to shut down the facility, saying it has been “a difficult one for the city for some time.”

“I hope the owner will take this matter very seriously and correct the violations quickly,” she said.

Lindsay also applauds the city’s efforts to step up code enforcement.

The Regency is one of several facilities that have been shut down this year for code violations. In July, a Hinds County chancery judge ordered that the Olive Tree Hotel and Banquet Halls at 5075 I-55 North be closed, citing numerous safety concerns.

Also in July, Reynolds ordered the Studio 7 Hotel on I-55 to be closed, calling the facility “extremely dangerous.”

“The problem with a lot of them is that they’re treated like long-term stays. You have people living there who have hot plates [in their rooms], and the smoke alarms are not working or they did not have them in the first place,” Chief Owens said.

“We’ll sometimes go in and find 10 people in a room. We warn them, come back and find the same violations and we have no choice but to shut them down.”

In the Regency’s case, records show the defendant told the court that nearly all problems there stemmed from a March 2022 tornado, “for which she had an open insurance claim that has been slow to cover the damages.” As for the gas leak, the owner told the court that the kitchen where it is located has not been used since 2019 and that the gas company had been contacted three times to fix it.

Even so, city officials were worried that the continued use of the facility in its current condition could endanger lives. “They have big parties over there, including one last Saturday following a JSU game,” Owens said. “They had hundreds of people there - DJs, cooking, bounce houses - but no permit.”

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