EP #38 – Legal Rights and Responsibilities of the Innkeeper

As a place of public accommodation, hotels have many legal obligations, as well as rights, when it comes to serving the public.

We all have those burning questions about what our roles and rights are in the multitude of challenging and unique situations we face each day as hoteliers. As our guest on this episode says and as we all know, “people are normal until they check into a hotel.”

Knowing what’s legal and where our limits are can often seem to be one of those gray areas. But, legal rights for hoteliers and our guests are always worth that second look. When it comes to getting sound legal advice, you want to be careful to get your information from a trusted source.  In this episode, you will hear from one such resource.


Hospitality law specialist, Stephen Barth joins me in this episode to discuss some of today’s most relevant legal concerns for hoteliers. Barth helps make the gray a little more black and white by sharing the top concerns for hoteliers as well as practical ways to implement legal best practices.


Barth is an attorney who has specialized in hospitality industry law over his 27-year-career. Author of Hospitality Law, he is currently a professor at Hilton College at the University of Houston and helped found hospitalitylawyer.com – which he bills as the “match.com of hospitality law” because it helps match those in the industry with the lawyer or legal resource that’s right for them.


Legal responsibilities for hoteliers have come into the spotlight more recently with cases like that of Erin Andrews, the television personality who reached a settlement with a Nashville hotel after a secretly recorded nude video of her went viral. Barth, who testified as an expert in legal proceeds for Andrews’ case, says guest privacy is just one of the big issues facing innkeepers today. Others we cover in this episode include:

  • Data privacy
  • 3rd party (sexual) harassment
  • Medical marijuana accommodation
  • Right to refuse service


How do we tackle those issues while balancing guest satisfaction with legal responsibilities? We dive into that here with practical advice and actionable ideas based on best practices.


Questions like, should hoteliers be going into all rooms at least once a day despite the “Do Not Disturb” sign present on the door?


How do I craft a policy solid enough to protect my hotel from legal ramifications if I want to refuse service to a guest?


Barth says there are four circumstances where we have the right to refuse service:

  • When the guest can’t pay
  • The guest appears to be drunk or a danger to themselves or others
  • If the hotel is full (and you want to make sure it actually is)
  • The guest has a communicable disease


A common misconception is that hotels are places of public accommodation so we are limited on what we can refuse. Barth talks about how, if you have solid policies to back you up, you will always have ground to stand on for refusal in the above cases.


We also cover why your “do not rent to these people” list might be a “don’t.” Barth warns that we have to be careful that those on our list are, “justified by something other than their membership in a protected class of people.” As long as there’s a solid understanding of civil rights laws at the federal and state level, discrimination won’t be an issue. Hear full details when you listen above.

What about evicting a guest? That can be a sticky situation. Barth talks about how a solid registration agreement is all you need to send them packing – providing you take a few other things into consideration when you do. Barth even offers a resource for hotel employee handbooks on his own website at HospitalityLawyer.com


Another challenge covered is medical marijuana. Many guests now claim hotels need to accommodate their need to smoke it. But is that true? Barth says no. There are so many other ways the guest can ingest the prescription as needed.


We will also touch on liability for impaired guests. If we see someone that’s so drunk they need medical attention, what should we do and what do we need to know in this challenging situation?


Our episode closes with what can make or break the best of policies and intentions – our people. One of our duties to our guests is hiring qualified people, educating them and then following up their execution of our policies and procedures as well as making sure they’re enforcing them in a fair and consistent manner.

Resources from this episode include:

Barth says accurately classifying employees is one of the most common labor law errors hoteliers make. The debate hinges on employee vs. independent contractor. The resources above help clarify that as well as offer helpful information for clarity when it comes to the gray areas of the hospitality world.


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