Vol.1, No.2

Consumer rights at hotels and motels

What are your rights as a consumer renting a hotel or motel room?

Hotel bed in room
Photo Credit: Naomi Hasegawa
You are planning on renting a hotel or motel room during your vacation, and you wonder if you have any rights as a consumer under the law. What if the hotel does not accommodate your handicap, if you have one? What if you are not provided a room, despite a reservation? Does a hotel employee have a right to search your room? Do you have any rights if you feel you have been deceived in advance about the quality of the room you rented?

Quite simply, yes, you do have rights as a consumer renting a hotel or motel room. If you have a physical handicap, such as being deaf, the law protects you. You have rights if you have a guaranteed reservation, and the hotel or motel does not provide you with a room. You have rights if your privacy is violated, under certain conditions. The law protects you from fraud concerning an advertisement about the quality of your room. Various websites, including some websites of lawyers, outline your rights under federal law, and states may have their own laws to protect you.

Your rights start with being guaranteed a room. If you have a prepaid or guaranteed reservation, and you give the hotel or motel your credit card number to reserve a room at any time, you must be provided a room. It does not matter if you show up at midnight or 3 a.m.

If the hotel does not provide you a room, your contract has been breached. You must be provided with a room, even if the hotel has to send you to another hotel or motel, even if the hotel has to pay for your first night's stay, even if free transportation to the other hotel or motel must be provided. You must be provided with a three minute phone call for free to let your loved ones know where you are staying. You have the right to request these services. If the other hotel or motel is more expensive than the one you made the reservation at, the hotel must pay the difference.

The difference between a guaranteed reservation and a confirmed reservation, is that with a confirmed reservation, there might be certain conditions you must meet to receive the room. You might be required to check in by a certain time. You might be required to pay a deposit and provide a written confirmation by a certain date. If you do not meet the conditions, the hotel or motel is not obligated to provide a room. If you do, it is.

You do not have a right to a particular room, unless you have reserved one, like the honeymoon suite, for your honeymoon. A hotel manager can put you in any room, if he or she does not discriminate.

Let the manager know you want a special room in advance, if that is your desire. You must receive written confirmation of your request for that room in advance. If a room you reserved is occupied, the occupants may be moved to another room, but the manager is not required by law to do so. He is only required to provide a comparable room.

Also, if the room you wanted is uninhabitable, like the heat doesn't work in the winter, the manager is not obligated to rent the room to you.

You have a limited right to privacy in your room. You have the right, unless the hotel or motel management has a reason to believe you are engaged in an illegal activity or are disturbing other tenants. If, however, management would believe you were doing something illegal, like using or selling drugs, then someone would have the right to enter your room, even without your permission. Under any circumstances, however, the police would not have a right to enter your room without a warrant.

Someone from the hotel may also enter your room, if it is believed you are destroying hotel property. Your room may also be entered if you are disturbing other guests.

Someone from the hotel may not tell your room number to an outside person. A hotel employee may tell someone if you are a guest and connect a phone call to your room. You do have the right, however, to tell management not to tell anyone you are at the hotel or connect calls.

You even have some rights as far as the rate you pay, although the rate may vary greatly from one hotel to another.

There is no formula for the maximum any hotel may charge, although the rate must be reasonable. Many states require a hotel or motel to post their rates in a conspicuous place in each room, such as on the door. A higher price than that maximum charge may not be charged.

You should also check to see if your bill matches the price you were quoted when you reserved the room. Visitor fees and bed taxes may be charged and may even be required by law. Service charges or telephone charges may not be charged, unless you approve of such charges in advance, or unless you are told you will be charged for phone calls if you make them.

Suppose you rent a room, and when you arrive, it looks nothing like it was advertised, and maybe looks a lot worse. The hotel or motel may be guilty of fraud, although a certain amount of exaggeration is allowed in advertisements.

You should talk with the manager immediately. He might reduce your charges or move you to another room.

Suppose the situation is a little worse than the room just not being as attractive as you thought? If you feel the room is not clean or sanitary, immediately tell the manager or housekeeping department. If they cannot clean your room to your satisfaction, request a full refund.

You would boost your own claim and actually be serving potential guests, if you report any serious problems to the local health department. Take photographs of your room.

If you fall and are injured at a hotel or motel, the business might be liable--depending upon whether it was negligent in some way. Negligence could be involved if food or a drink is spilled, causing you to fall, if snow or ice has not been removed from a floor, or if you are injured because of a building flaw, such as excessively steep steps.

A hotel or motel has certain responsibilities concerning its swimming pools--responsibilities that cannot be minimized with disclaimers, such as "swim at your own risk." If there is no fence around the pool, and someone is injured as a result, the hotel or motel could still be liable, even if a drunken person would fall into the pool.

A hotel or motel is not responsible if you are the victim of a crime, unless it could have anticipated the crime or done more to prevent it. Examples would be if the hotel did not install power locks on windows and doors or did not provide enough light in parking lots. Precautions may also need to be taken to be certain that room keys are not used by criminals.

A hotel or motel's liability is usually limited, if you are the victim of theft, provided it takes steps to protect you. A hotel must keep a safe for the cash, jewelry, and other valuables of its residents. Most states also require the hotel to inform you as a tenant about the availability of the safe. You might also legally be told that the hotel has no liability if you do not use the safe.

Hotels and motels are also liable only up to a certain dollar amount for clothing or personal goods you may have. That amount will probably be exceeded if you bring a fur coat or expensive suit to your room, and the items are stolen.

Although there are laws to limit a hotel's liability, for its protection, they may not apply if an employee would leave a safe unlocked, or in some way be negligent.

Many states limit the dollar amount for liability for a hotel or motel, if you have your car is damaged or stolen. If the hotel or valet is negligent in some way, the limits may not apply. The law is not clear as to whether the hotel would be liable if the contents of your car would be stolen, but there is a better chance of liability if the hotel or valet is negligent and if you have told the valet the contents of your car.

If you do not check out by the required time, a hotel or motel may legally change the lock on your room. You do not have the same rights in that regard as a tenant of an apartment or house would. In that case a landlord would have to start formal eviction proceedings.

You also have rights as a consumer at a hotel or motel if you have a disability. The Americans With Disabilities Act mandates that individuals with disabilities shall have access to jobs, and public accommodations. The law is meant to provide access to all of society to the disabled.

A business that is considered a public accommodation by Title III of the law must remove anything which would be a barrier to the disabled. This could include something such as making a larger sign, so a visually impaired person can read it. It could include reading a hotel bill to a blind person.

The law is designed to be flexible in the way in which a business may comply with it. It recognizes that certain accommodations may be too expensive for some businesses and requires them find an alternative method of complying with the law.

You have many rights as a consumer at a hotel or motel. It never hurts to know your rights, to be prepared in case of anything that might happen.