How to effectively, legally remove a guest
11 JULY 2014 6:21 AM
While most hoteliers are hard-wired to welcome guests, on occasion they are faced with the unenviable task of asking (or forcing) offending guests to leave.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While the hotel industry was built on the premise of welcoming guests, hoteliers often are faced with the unenviable task of removing them. Such scenarios require a sound understanding of legal grounds and the ability to navigate potentially combustible face-to-face interactions, according to sources.
The potential scenario was highlighted recently in Greenwood Village, Colorado, where members of city council on Monday passed an ordinance prohibiting hotel stays of longer than 29 days.
The city claims the move is needed to curtail calls for police service, which are considerably higher at the four hotels in town that permit people to live there. Also, hotels, which lack residential zoning, are not equipped to operate as long-term living facilities.
Similar length-of-stay provisions exist throughout the country. Beyond those examples, there exist several other legally sound reasons for removal of guests.
Under what circumstances can I remove a guest?
“You need certain rules to evict a guest. You can’t just arbitrarily evict them,” said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of consultancy McInerney Hospitality International and former head of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
Stephen Barth, professor of hospitality law, University of Houston, and founder of HospitalityLawyer.com, cited four reasons:
- if the guest does not pay or lacks the ability to pay;
- if the guest overstays beyond the dates specified in the reservation contract (although this can be state-specific);
- if the guest is drunk, disorderly or otherwise creates risk of harm to employees or other guests; and/or
- if the guest is violating the law.
In “The ABC’s of evicting guests,” the California Hotel & Lodging Association cites another: if the guest is ill with any “infectious, contagious or communicable disease.”
What’s the difference between a transient guest and a tenant?
Worth noting in the discussion of legal grounds is the difference between a hotel guest and a tenant.
“In general, a ‘transient guest’ is an individual who rents property for a relatively short period of time with no intent of establishing permanent residency. Conversely, a ‘tenant’ rents property intending to become a long-term resident and the property is her or her mailing address and ‘home,’” according to a an article from the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association titled “When guests overstay their welcome.”
Complicating the definition slightly is the extended-stay hotel segment, which routinely and intentionally houses guests for periods ranging from several days to weeks or months. Municipal laws typically recognize this class of hotel, as is the case in the Greenwood Village ordinance, which does not apply to extended-stay hotels.
The laws governing transient guests and tenants vary significantly, Barth explained.
“The general rule is that innkeepers are much different than landlords because innkeepers are generally dealing with transient guests as opposed to tenants,” he said. “When we think of an innkeeper-guest relationship, we think of locking out a guest rather than evicting a tenant.”
The term “eviction” legally applies to landlords who file and win an unlawful detainer. Hoteliers, on the other hand, rarely have to make such filings.
How do I notify the guest it is time to leave?
Hoteliers who are uncertain regarding their legal standing are encouraged to contact their local or state hotel association or attorney for advice, sources said.
Hoteliers also must be sure to conduct the removal in a reasonable manner and at a reasonable time, according to “The ABC’s of evicting guests.”
“The mere fact that an innkeeper has a legal right to evict someone does not give the innkeeper the right to carry out the eviction in a manner that would place the person in a position of harm. For example, a seriously ill guest should not be summarily thrown out into the winter elements,” the article explains.
The verbal exchange must be carried out in a professional manner, free of insulting language, intimidating conduct or other offensive actions that could lead to liability elsewhere, such as defamation, humiliation or infliction of emotional distress, according to the article.
Also key to the exchange with the guest is transparency, Barth said. Hoteliers should be upfront and direct, explaining why the guest is required to leave the hotel.
Some associations will provide customized written notices that spell out the details, but they are not needed in every instance.
Good, common sense should be the guiding principle, McInerney said.
“You’re going to be dealing with different offenders here,” he said. “Each one is different.”
What if a guest refuses to leave?
In the event a guest is unreasonable or unwilling to comply with the request, hoteliers can change the keycard the first time that guest leaves the room.
Hoteliers should undertake certain precautions when doing so, Barth explained. Locking out a guest effectively creates what he called a “bailment situation” because the hotelier is taking possession of the guest’s property.
Hoteliers must keep guests’ belongings safe until they return. Hoteliers should also create an inventory of each item, preferably through a video log via smartphone camera, in the event the guest files a complaint alleging theft or damaged property, he said.
When locking a guest out is not an option or would not create a reasonably timely resolution, sources recommended hoteliers call police.
Is there anything else I should remember?
“It’s best to keep a diary, a chronological history of what’s occurring,” Barth said. A detailed history not only can protect the hotelier in the event of a retaliatory legal action, but it also removes all doubt when police must be called, he said.
Both Barth and McInerney said hoteliers should be transparent about check-out dates, pricing policies and other issues upfront. Front-desk associates should circle check-out dates on the registration card and require guests to initial, indicating the guest has reviewed and will comply.
McInerney also said there is strength in numbers. When confronting a guest, “never do it by yourself,” he said. Bring backup in the form of another associate or employee.