The Difference Between a Hotel Guest and a California Tenant: Substantial Legal Distinction

By: Richardson Griswold and WAKEUP CALL

Hotel guest turned tenant is more common than you may think. With the help of Richardson Griswold, we try to dig deeper into the legal distinction between a guest and a tenant. 

hotel guest and tenants 

In recent posts we’ve discussed the basic distinctions between Residential Hotels and Transient Hotels, as well as the legal rights of a long-term guest at a Residential Hotel in California.  The purpose of this article is to continue to define exactly what makes a hotel a Residential Hotel and the circumstances under which a resident in a hotel or motel does not gain the rights of a tenant.

To briefly recap, California defines a Residential Hotel as any building containing six or more guestrooms that are primarily occupied by persons who use such rooms as their primary residence. See, Cal. Health & Safety Code § 50519. California Civil Code §1940 is the principal state law governing the relationship between landlords and those who stay on their premises, including persons who stay in rooms at Residential Hotels. With exceptions, this body of California laws gives persons staying at Residential Hotels the same tenant rights as would be afforded to a California tenant renting an apartment with a lease.

A hotel may (to an extent) avoid the strict provisions of the law as to whether the guest must be treated as tenant as opposed to a transient guest, if it provides certain amenities.  These amenities include the following: 1) a fire proof safe exclusively for persons staying on the property; 2) central phone services; 3) maid, mail, and room services; 4) occupancy for less than 7 days; and 5) food service provided by a food establishment located on or adjacent to the hotel.

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