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Hotel Guest Legal Rights: FAQ

It's important to know your rights and responsibilities as a hotel guest. Informed travelers are better able to address any concerns they encounter before they escalate into legal issues.

Certain local, state, and federal laws protect the rights of hotel guests. However, you have responsibilities as a hotel patron as well. Knowing both can contribute to a smoother and safer hotel experience.

Below, FindLaw answers common questions about your rights as a hotel guest from before you check in to after you check out.

What's the difference between a guaranteed reservation and a confirmed reservation?

A guaranteed reservation means you've paid for your hotel reservation in advance, and the hotel must hold the room for you. A confirmed reservation means you have not yet paid, but the hotel agrees to hold a room for you based on some condition.

For example, in a typical confirmed reservation, the hotel may agree to hold the room for you until 8 p.m. on a specific day. If you arrive before 8 p.m., the hotel must give you a room. But, if you fail to meet a condition, the hotel does not have to offer you a room.

I've prepaid for my room (a guaranteed reservation). Can a hotel refuse to give me a room?

If you've prepaid for your room, it is guaranteed. The hotel must give you the room you paid for, even if you arrive late. If the hotel does not have a room for you, it has breached your contract and must provide you with a reasonable substitute.

This means they may have to send you to another hotel, even if it is more expensive. They also must facilitate and pay for your transportation to the new hotel.

I wanted a specific room. Do I have a right to a particular room?

Typically, you do not have a right to a specific room unless you specify that room during your reservation (for example, the penthouse suite). If you want a particular room, you must make that clear when booking your room.

Be sure to get written confirmation that you booked a specific room. If the hotel fails to provide you with a specific room, it has likely broken its contract. If this occurs, you may recover some form of limited damages.

This room is not what I expected. Is there anything I can do about it?

The hotel room you end up with may not look like the pleasant one pictured on their official website or brochure. While a certain amount of exaggeration is allowed in advertising, intentionally deceiving customers is fraud.

If the room you got is substantially below what you expected based on an advertisement, speak to the front desk or a manager immediately. This also applies if the room has not been appropriately cleaned or is extremely noisy. You should request a better room or a discount. If nothing else is sufficient, request a full refund.

You may be able to sue the hotel in small claims for the hassle of having to relocate. But, this may not be feasible or even worth the expense. You will want help from a lawyer if you decide to pursue this.

Can a hotel charge me whatever it wants for a room?

Hotel rates often depend on seasonal variance and can fluctuate, costing double or triple the normal rate during some times of the year. However, hotels cannot just charge you whatever they want. Many jurisdictions mandate that hotels post a maximum charge in a conspicuous place (often on the back of the door).

State or local law may mandate items such as a visitor fee or bed tax. However, other fees, such as utility or service charges, may not be legitimate. A hotel cannot charge you more than the rate it quoted when you made the reservation unless you approve the charge in advance.

Do I have a right to privacy in my hotel room?

Generally, yes. You have a right to expect privacy in your hotel room as long as you use the hotel room in a normal, responsible way. However, if you engage in anything illegal or disturb other occupants, hotel management can enter your room without your permission.

Hotel management, not law enforcement, can enter the room without your permission. Hotel management cannot give police permission to search your room. The police must go through the usual process, which usually means getting a warrant before searching your room.

A final exception to your right to privacy is for cleaning and maintenance. Hotel management has the right to enter your room to clean or perform necessary maintenance.

What happens if I don't leave my room by the check-out time?

Eviction laws do not apply to hotel guests. Unlike apartment or house rentals, hotel staff can evict you if you stay past the agreed time. Most hotels will understand short delays and accommodate you, but the hotel can still evict you. This includes changing the locks (which is easy with electronic key cards) and moving your personal belongings out.

The exception is if you are staying at an extended-stay hotel (also called a residential hotel). State laws determine how many consecutive days you must stay at a residential hotel for protection under tenancy laws. If you qualify as a tenant under state law, you may have the right to a formal eviction proceeding.

Am I entitled to a discount?

Many groups are eligible for hotel discounts. Here are some of the most common groups:

  • Seniors
  • Corporate customers
  • Government customers
  • Families with children
  • Professional associations (American Bar Association)
  • Certain credit card members
  • American Automotive Association (AAA) members

Some credit cards and rebate sites also offer rotating cash-back rewards.

My property was stolen from my hotel room. Is the hotel responsible?

Historically, hotels were liable for your property during your stay. Today, however, most states significantly limit the liability a hotel can face for stolen or damaged personal property. In most states, hotels must provide you with a safe for your valuable belongings.

However, there are monetary limits on hotel liability. Even if the hotel is responsible for the theft of your expensive suit, it may not be liable for the full dollar amount of your suit.

The exception to this rule is if the hotel did not exercise reasonable care in protecting your property. For example, if the hotel:

  • Leaves the safe unlocked
  • Does not meet local fire codes
  • Does not perform adequate background checks for staff

It may be liable for the full value of your property if someone breaks into your safe or the hotel burns down.

Someone broke into my car while at the hotel. Is the hotel responsible?

Like personal property theft, it depends on whether the hotel exercised reasonable care in protecting your car. If the hotel was negligent, it may be liable for damages to your vehicle.

If someone stole property from your car, responsibility will depend on whether the hotel could have foreseen and prevented such a theft. It may not have been foreseeable that a passerby would break into your car in the parking lot. However, it may have been foreseeable that the hotel's valet might steal the cell phone in your car.

I hurt myself while at the hotel. Is the hotel responsible?

It depends on the circumstances. The hotel may be liable if you slipped and fell on the hotel premises because the management failed to clean up a spill or clear a walkway.

Another typical example is if you have an accident because a hotel doesn't adequately light an area. If you get hurt at a hotel, contact a lawyer to determine whether you have a personal injury claim.

A crime occurred near the hotel. Is the hotel responsible?

Generally, a hotel is not responsible for crimes committed on or near the hotel's premises. The exception is if the hotel should have anticipated the crime and failed to prevent it.

A common example is if the hotel is in a high crime area but didn't put security measures in place (like locked windows and bright lighting). Hotels must also warn of any known criminal problems around the hotel.

What are the hotel's responsibilities for maintaining the pool area?

Hotels know that people prefer accommodations with swimming pools. But, by attracting guests with a swimming pool, hotels also become responsible for their customers' safety around the pool. Although many hotels post a notice that claims you are swimming at your own risk, it is unlikely that any such warning is adequate to save it from a serious lawsuit.

In addition to basic safety, hotels must anticipate that children and even intoxicated adults will likely use the pool and put appropriate safeguards in place.

What is the maximum number of days a hotel must keep an uncollected item in storage?

No law dictates the number of business days a hotel must keep items left behind by guests. How long a hotel keeps unclaimed items in storage depends on the hotel's policy. However, most hotels hold onto unclaimed items for 30 days to six months before donating or disposing.

If you left an item after you've checked out of your room, contact the hotel directly as soon as possible. Hotel staff can specify how long they can keep your belongings and options for retrieving them. Some hotels will ship your items to you at your expense.

Due to guest privacy issues, most hotels will not call a guest if something is left behind.

Does a hotel have to allow my pet, emotional support, or service animal?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals have the right to bring their service animals into public spaces, including hotels.

Unlike pets or emotional support animals, service animals perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities. Because of this, hotels must allow service animals to accompany guests with disabilities in hotel common areas and guest rooms.

Most hotels treat emotional support animals as pets and can choose to allow them or not. They do not have the same legal protections as service animals. If you want to travel with your four-legged family member, book a pet-friendly hotel or call the hotel in advance to clarify their pet policies.

Issue With a Hotelier? Get Legal Advice

Most travelers can resolve a hotel dispute without having to pursue legal action. However, you have rights as a hotel guest, and consumer protection and personal injury laws cover several aspects of a hotel guest's stay.

Booking scams, injuries on hotel property, and breach of contract are all potential legal issues that can arise from a hotel stay. If you have a problem with a hotel you can't resolve on your own, reach out to a consumer protection attorney in your area. An experienced attorney can review your situation to determine if you have a claim. They can negotiate with the hotel and represent you in court if you pursue a lawsuit.

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