Generally, discussion of the legal duties or obligations of hotels and motels focus on guest treatment and safety and the legal ramifications when failure to fulfill these obligations results in damage or harm to the guest. In the U.S., legal obligations of “innkeepers” evolved from early English common law and court rulings. Only in the last half of the twentieth century did the federal government begin passing acts of legislation to bring English common law up to date with social and technological change.
Discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was included in Title 42 of the U.S. Code, Chapter 21, Subchapter II to cover establishments providing lodging to “transient guests.” Similarly, new or renovated hotel facilities must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates for public access. The Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990 and amendments have imposed safety requirements often beyond those found in local building codes. States and localities have instituted additional regulations for hotel construction, operations, and safety.
Duty to Receive Guests
As noted, hotels and motels cannot refuse guests based on any discriminatory criteria. To refuse accommodation, a hotel must have a legitimate reason to believe the potential guest cannot or will not pay the contracted fee. To avoid liability, hotels require the presentation of a credit card, a deposit, or pre-payment before occupancy. Hotels are liable for failing to honor a reservation caused by overbooking. Hotels that breach a reservation contract can be liable for damages. Similarly, hotels may retain deposits when guests do not honor reservations.
Eviction of Guests and Non-Guests
Guests may be evicted and their rental payments kept for registering under false pretenses, “disorderly” conduct, using the room for unlawful purposes, violating clearly posted hotel rules, and possessing dangerous objects or materials. Hotels can remove any non-guest from its premises, unless that person is present at the request of a guest; however, a non-guest can be evicted if engaged in conduct for which a guest would be evicted.
Duty to Provide Safe Premises
A hotel’s greatest legal obligation is the maintenance of a non-hazardous and secure environment. A hotel that fails to identify a foreseeable or obvious hazard and fails to adequately warn the guest of its existence may be found negligent and judged liable for resulting harm or damage to a guest.
In addition, hotels have a duty to inspect their facilities and identify hazards that may not be obviously apparent. Hotels can be deemed negligent if they “should have known” of the existence of a danger and failed to correct it and/or warn guests. Hotels also may be held liable for damage or harm caused by an employee’s negligence. If a guest ignores a clearly marked warning and endangers himself, the hotel is not liable.
Harm or Damage Caused by Other Guests or Third Persons
Hotels have a responsibility to provide “reasonable” protection to guests from harm caused by other guests or non-guests. For example, hotels can be liable for harm or damages to a guest resulting from their failure to “remove” a disorderly guest or third party.
If negligent in their provision of adequate security, hotels are liable for harm or damage to a guest resulting from criminal acts of a third party. Besides their duty to provide adequate locks on doors and windows, the inclusion of closed circuit television has become standard practice in hotel security.
Responsibility for Personal Property
Hotels limiting their liability for loss or damage to a guest’s personal property must inform guests with conspicuous notices. Hotels may also place limits on liability for items left in the hotel safe. Hotels may be liable for theft or damage of an item in a guest room, if clearly attributable to hotel staff or hotel negligence.
This article was written together with Robert Tritter, an avid writer of legal-related articles throughout the web. They write this on behalf of Rodney Nars Producer, your number one insurance agent in Chicago. Check out his website to see how he can help your hotel or motel the right insurance.