The legal implications of long-term guests
 
The legal implications of long-term guests
30 SEPTEMBER 2016 8:17 AM

Hoteliers should be aware of when guests gain tenancy rights, how to avoid it and what to do when it happens.

One of the more common questions we receive from hotel operators is how to handle guests staying more than thirty days. There are a variety of reasons why hotel patrons pursue extended stays: some prefer the ease and convenience of living in a hotel (maid service, roomservice, proximity to work, etc.); often they are international visitors looking for extended accommodations but who prefer not to enter into a 6 month or 1 year lease for an apartment; others are in the midst of a life transition (employment, relationship, relocation, etc.) and need a temporary place to call home.

Whatever the reason, hotel owners and operators must be mindful of the length of each guest’s stay, as it might mean the difference between a pleasant customer experience and a costly, drawn-out legal dispute.

Avoiding the landlord-tenant relationship
Hotel guests are considered transient occupants because they usually only reside at the property for a short period. However, there are times when hotel guests stay long enough to obtain tenancy rights. This happens most often at residential hotels where guests settle into extended stays for business or personal reasons. It may also occur when a guest has been living at a residential hotel that was subsequently converted into a short-term property; here, the guest has already gained tenancy rights in the building from the prior stay and is permitted to remain.

Once a guest has gained tenancy rights, formal eviction proceedings are required to remove the guest from the property. This process can be time-consuming and costly, so it is in hoteliers’ best interests to take legally permissible steps to prevent extended-stay guests from becoming de facto tenants.

Each state has its own rules determining when a transient occupant becomes recognized under the law as a tenant. The main factor, which varies by jurisdiction, is the length of continuous stay required for a guest to obtain tenancy rights. In California, a guest automatically becomes a tenant once he/she has stayed for more than 30 consecutive days. However, the hotel has the power to prevent a guest from staying longer than 30 days and accruing tenant’s rights, which happens automatically on the 31st day.

There are various protocols hoteliers have instituted to prevent long-term guests from becoming tenants, some more legally sound than others. For example, a letter or contract between the guest and the hotel whereby the guest agrees not to achieve tenant status is not technically illegal, but it is unenforceable, i.e. worthless because the intent is to eschew California’s tenancy laws. A court will not enforce the letter/contract in the event there a dispute arises regarding the guest’s rights and status after the 30th day.

Likewise, while a system in which reservations are cycled (where the guest checks out and re-registers every 28 or 29 days) is slightly more favored, it may still be unenforceable because the guest never actually vacates the premises and may be viewed by the court as simply another way to get around California’s tenancy laws. However, the best practice is to have the guest check out every 28 or 29 days, stay elsewhere for one night, and then check back in.

How to evict a guest who becomes a tenant
In California, if a guest becomes a tenant, the tenancy can only be terminated in accordance with the provisions of the California Civil Code, which requires (1) notice, (2) filing an unlawful detainer and (3) good cause (in some municipalities).

A written eviction notice must be posted on the tenant’s door or personally served to him/her. The amount of notice--30 days, 60 days, etc.--varies depending on the length of the tenancy (how long the guest has stayed past the 30-day mark) and the specific jurisdiction.

If the tenant does not leave voluntarily by the end of the notice period, the hotel must file a petition with the court seeking eviction in order to regain possession of the room. This requires a hearing and the process may take weeks or months.

It is important to have counsel review municipal laws because some cities and towns may have regulations that provide more robust requirements for evicting a tenant than the governing state. For example, under the San Diego Tenant's Right to Know Act, a tenancy for a period of over two years can only be terminated for good cause if:

  • "Refusal to provide access: The tenant has refused to give the landlord reasonable access to the rental-unit for the purposes of making repairs or improvements, or for the purpose of inspection as permitted or required by the lease or law." (San Diego Municipal Code section 98.0730 (f).)
  • "Nuisance: The tenant is committing a nuisance or permitting a nuisance in, or is causing damage to, the rental unit or to the appurtenances thereof or to the common areas of the housing complex containing the rental-unit, or is creating an unreasonable interference with the comfort, safety or enjoyment of any of the other residents in the housing complex." (San Diego Municipal Code section 98.0730 (c).)

New York state law, while very similar to California, does not provide a standard for determining whether someone is a tenant or a transient occupant. If there is evidence a long-term hotel guest has a permanent residence elsewhere, and their stay at the hotel was not intended to be permanent, the guest may be considered a transient occupant, and thereby not a tenant, even if the person has stayed beyond 30 days. A number of other states employ this “transient occupant” or “transient guest” analysis when determining whether a guest has become a tenant.

Unlike New York and California, Texas law focuses on whether a guest who claims tenancy rights can establish he or she has “exclusive possession” of the room. Texas courts have held exclusive possession does not exist when the hotel continues to exercise control over the room during the guest’s occupancy—including cleaning, providing maintenance or having access to the room via a room key.  

Taking matters into your own hands
Hotel owners and operators may be tempted to exert pressure on a guest who has stayed beyond 30 days and refuses to vacate his or her room. However, it is critical to consult with an experienced attorney before engaging in any behavior that could be perceived as violating tenancy rights. For example, “self-help” that results in “constructive eviction” is prohibited, which includes a landlord’s unlawful actions to influence a tenant to vacate, such as:

  • Using, or threatening to use, force, willful threats or menacing conduct constituting a course of conduct that interferes with the tenant's quiet enjoyment of the premises “that would create an apprehension of harm in a reasonable person.” The tenant need not be actually or constructively evicted to obtain relief pursuant to this provision. [Civil Code § 1940.2(a)(3)]
  • preventing a tenant from gaining reasonable access by changing the locks or using a bootlock;
  • removing outside doors or windows; and
  • removing a tenant’s personal property, furnishings or any other items without the tenant’s prior written consent before tenant has vacated.

At the same time, a good faith warning notice is permissible. For instance, a landlord does not violate the law by giving an oral or written warning notice, in good faith, regarding a tenant's, occupant's or guest's conduct that violates, may violate or has violated the applicable rental agreement, rules, regulations or laws. Likewise, an oral or written explanation of the rental agreement, rules, regulations, lease or laws given in the normal course of business is not a violation of the statute. [Civ Code § 1940.2(c)]

Seeking a smooth resolution
If you find yourself in a situation where you believe a hotel guest may have gained tenancy rights or is nearing the standard 30-day time limit for transient occupancy, you should seek legal counsel. The appropriate actions to minimize liability and facilitate a smooth resolution of this issue will vary depending on the circumstances and applicable state law and municipal regulations. In your quest to provide guests an unparalleled customer experience, remember that sometimes, the most prudent move is to ask them to check out.

David M. Samuels, Esq. is a senior litigation partner with Michelman & Robinson, LLP and a member of the firm’s executive committee. His practice is primarily devoted to providing legal counsel and guidance to hotels, resorts and private clubs in cases related to personal and catastrophic injury, premises liability and administrative law.

Alicia C. O’Brien is an associate in Michelman & Robinson, LLP’s (M&R’s) Los Angeles office. She is a member of the Commercial and Business Litigation Department, where she regularly represents hotel owners and operators, and other hospitality industry clients, in matters ranging from premises liability to intellectual property.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

17 Comments

  • dana morton February 26, 2018 1:42 AM Reply

    Sterling gardens apartments located on fremont street in ,las vegas forces you to vacate the premises and stay at a sister property for one night on the 28th day of residency. is this legal

  • Tracy Upton April 3, 2018 11:10 PM Reply

    Los Angeles County, CA. what is the law regarding a corporate direct bill account which has people on the hotel property and they have been there for months. The corporation did not pay the billed amount and subsequently the tenants were being evicted.

    When they served the corporate tenants they did not name the corporation that they have a written agreement with. The tenants received nothing in writing nor verbally that they would be responsible for the corporation's bill. In effect The hotel transferred the corporations debt to the tenants in the corporate rooms.

    How legal is this?

    What are the legal steps the tenants can take against the hotel. whom they have no written agreement with and the hotel never identified verbally nor in writing; that if the company didn't pay that the tenants would assume the debt of the company.

  • Gay Johnson May 18, 2018 5:31 PM Reply

    I was living at a motel for over 4 months. Had stayed there before for months at a time. Even had mailed delivered. My tv went out. I asked them to replace it or move me to another room. They had multiple vacancies. They refused me. Told me I had to wait til Monday when maintenance was there. I asked if they would deduct from my rent. They told me no. I had just paid for the week. They wouldn't give me a refund. I said well I'll watch tv in the lobby. They had security remove me from lobby. I went back to my room. They never sent maintenance. They didn't give me a refund so I was in a room for a week with no tv, when the time came for me to pay for the next week they refused me. I have now been at another property owned by same management. Been here a month. Had to leave for 5 days because I couldn't pay. When I went to get a room they refused me. Told me i was on the do not rent list because of what happened at last location. I have never given them any problems at this location. I believe I am being retaliated against for calling police in security guard because he threatened me. Do I have any rights.


  • Scottie June 17, 2018 8:00 PM Reply

    I've been staying at Ramada inn Palmdale california for almoust a year if not. I made the decision to stay to be close to my 3 year old son. And have a place where he can come visit or I would prefer live. Long story short I'm running out of money. What are my choices as in my rights and how bad dose it affect the hotel.

  • Heather July 2, 2018 6:03 PM Reply

    Lived at this extended stay since September '17, never had any violations, rent has been on time every week. Now I'm being told to vacate bc my spouse is developing a mental illness and had an episode last week. They have given us a day and a half to leave. Is this even legal? I received mail here and i.d. has this address.

    • Torrey Inman August 8, 2018 3:23 PM Reply

      If longer than 30 days they gotta get a Court order

    • Hector Cruz July 8, 2019 8:10 AM Reply

      I live in florida and live in a motel for 9 years my money was always on time and sometimes are head but since i retire my chech is once a month sometimes i am late on my money but i paid can they lock my room or evict me

  • Patricia Ryan December 21, 2018 2:09 PM Reply

    What are the laws about eviction in the state of Maryland where I have lived at a motel 6 for two years. As well as have my residence on my photo i.d I listed as this residence do they have the right to throw me out or do they have to follow court ordered evictions?

    • Jennifer the Night Auditor February 25, 2019 2:47 AM Reply

      Since you found your way to hotelnewsnow.com, surely you can find your way to the Maryland Code of Laws or Statutes. Every state in the U.S. has their laws online these days, and many have topic-specific pages or sites dedicated to one subject - such as eviction.

      • Sarcasm by decree May 6, 2019 4:31 PM Reply

        Your comments are rude, uninformative, and unnecessary. Stop wasting peoples time with pointless comments.

  • Helen Eggleston February 7, 2019 5:30 PM Reply

    Extended Hotel in pa. Been here going on 5 months and have been told this date present that when housekeeping comes to clean room we will leave room and the cart will be placed in front of door and sign that says staff inside they will take what they need off cart and place inside room and close door ! Do I have to do this ( leave room ) with door close I pay every week and my belongings are in this room I do not like the idea of door being close and told to leave room!! Do I have to leave room and why does door have to be shut and blocked do not agree to this

    • Jennifer the Night Auditor February 25, 2019 2:49 AM Reply

      No, you absolutely do not have to vacate the room when housekeeping provides service. The problem is that if you challenge the property, they can easily manufacture a false reason to have you evicted. Regardless of how it turns out, you have every legal right to be present when any employee of the property enters your room.

  • James March 4, 2019 8:38 PM Reply

    Me and my son have been living at the residence inn Marriott since last October and I was paying 1547 every two weeks so everything was going good until new management came in and changed things and now that they tried to tell me that I had to pay every week and I had agreement already in place and now they told me and my son to leave and called the cops and they talked really bad to my son what should I do

  • Maggygousse March 21, 2019 7:40 PM Reply

    Good morning I have been staying at the hotel for 6 months now. I chose extended stay because I’ve been at the San Dimas location prior my departure to Haiti a Country in distress. I was there 4 yrs. The first 5 months I had no problem paying in advance. This last month has been difficult and I have been paying weekly or semi weekly. You have a new manager for the last 3 weeks Jessica Baca. I attempted to pay this week and she advise the staff not to take any payment from me if it was not the $594.00 total. I immediately contacted my family to wire money to cover this amount and asa Jeddica arrived in the morning I told her I was going to have the funds. She responded that even if I ay I must go and frankly I did not have to pay at all. I said I want to pay anyway I do not like to owe she said no but I had 3 days to leave. I said ok I will leave on Friday. Last night I received two lease notices of 3 days pay or quit and two lease notices of 30 days or legal actions will be taken against me. First she refused my money then she said I will never be able to go to no extended stay ever. I feel discrinminated against. I am indeed a black women. I am also a Realtor and I do not have a lease with extended stay. I am truly upset because I started to move however I will sleep in my car with my dog. I need to hear from you because I will have to take legal actions myself. These lease notices on my door are unacceptable. I did nothing wrong and always paid maybe late only this last 6 month of my stay. Believe me I do not care to stay however I need some time. I do not do anything wrong. Thank You

  • Maggygousse March 21, 2019 9:39 PM Reply

    I did not mention I work as a language Interpreter for the California Superior Courts m’y payments became late during the shut down and all the staff was aware of this . My checks are mailed to me at extended stay This manager came to this job at the end of the shut down and I paid up everything. She said it was because of my payment history which is untrue I always paid either 2 months or a month in advance. Apologies for posting this here however I need support it is wrong! I have a picture of all 4 notices on my door at the extended stay! And is a very good example for all hotels! I’m also an actor and a Realtor.

  • Devon April 26, 2019 8:13 AM Reply

    My wife and I with our dog has been living at the same hotel since 12/23/18,when our home was destroyed in a house fire and the landlord agreed to allow us to make partial arrangements to pay we both have keys and have our mail granted do to government delay put us in a major bind and at first we where paying day for day until we found out that we could pay weekly -and in the event day for day and even installments, granted
    We have much gratitude for the co-part cooperation yet due to other tenants damage with refusal to pay we where aproch with the term of torts stating to pay now or go now a possession notice was handed to us either a set day for us to vacate if not the full amount is not paid this done right after I have submitted partial payment that was accepted more then once where I have always paid on date stated as well have paid more at times and not push the issue ok with this being said I did say say that I would have all if not most by Friday not realizing that the nextnext
    Day was Friday which is the day putting me in a situation where I have to try to borrow money and then reborrow to continue to have a place to stay as well not being able to pay and have a place <I have some knowledge of torts law yet the none understanding is that this hotel is one of many So said private and not corporate with that being said if private own yet corporate ties so to speak where do I and my family stand and without holding rent to be paid as well considering a self notice of quit or file a re order of resentment do to none compliance of proper maintenance not by the management they truly have reached out but the owners are heads of this particular hotel,please send a quick reply in llu of tenants of a two star hotel that is currently our home of convailence.

  • bridgett l owens April 29, 2019 2:54 AM Reply

    I am a motel manager in california . I have many guest that wont leave at the end of there 28 day stay . i tell them they can come back in 2 days . but they just stop paying there bill and stay . i now have people that havent paid in 6 months or more. i'm having to evicit them and total is about $30.000 now . how do i get them out before the 28th day of there stay . please what can i do.

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