Failure to rent a hotel room to a minor may bring an unwelcomed discrimination suit against your property. Since state and local laws differ around hotel accommodations, it is advisable for you to confirm your legal rights and obligations in your specific areas with an accomplished attorney skilled in hotel law. Avoid mishaps by training all employees on the rules and regulations surrounding the issue to ensure consistent enforcement throughout your property and be sure to train front desk personnel in the proper procedures for admitting minor guests. Hotel Business, Corris Little gives recommendations for handling the challenges of underage guests.
NATIONAL REPORT—Did you know that, in some states, it is illegal to refuse to rent a hotel room to a minor? If the answer is no, you’re not alone. Often, by the time a hotel operator finds out, the company is embroiled in a lawsuit or facing costly fines.
Hotels have a duty to accommodate children, and any businesses prohibiting people strictly on the basis of age—in-person or online—are breaking the law, according to the California Hotel & Lodging Association.
“This issue came up with respect to a hotel in California. A particular hotel had a minor show up and approached the hotel about renting a room. The hotel said, ‘We don’t rent to minors as a rule.’ Soon after, the hotel received a demand of $5,000 from an attorney that was representing the child in a discrimination lawsuit. We didn’t want people making these kinds of claims and sought to educate all hotels on the appropriate way to handle the situation,” said Attorney Tara L. Lattomus, member, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC, a firm with 14 offices in 11 states.
The guidelines around hotel accommodations are not one-size-fits-all and they can vary geographically, which can be quite challenging for hoteliers with properties in several states. The stakes are high for multiple property owners who are not well informed—and potential fines can add up if each hotel is found to have broken the law. It is imperative that hoteliers make a concerted effort to stay informed of the legal ramifications in their area and seek out proper counsel as the laws are evolving and quite nuanced.
“It’s not just illegal to prohibit minors in California, it’s also illegal to say, ‘We don’t accommodate children under the age of 12.’ It wouldn’t necessarily be a child seeking a reservation, even with a parent. It varies by state. For example, in Michigan years ago, the issue came up and a law was proposed at the time stating hotels cannot refuse to rent a room to a minor if he or she is emancipated or had parent involvement and agreed to be responsible, or in the event of a roadside emergency,” Lattomus said.
So, what can hoteliers do to follow the letter of the law, and avoid potential missteps and their consequences? Knowledge is power. When helping clients navigate the issue, Lattomus looks at the local laws and explains what the business’ liability would be in the situation and then assists them in handling it internally, such as providing background information or explaining how it happened so the company can effectively communicate with their staff. Lattomus is also educating the industry on how to avoid pitfalls through thought leadership articles.
“Be sure to check your state laws about whether or not it is prohibited and also determine whether there is anything you can do to protect yourself, such as drafting parental statements,” Lattomus advised.
She also recommended that hoteliers avoid implementing a blanket policy that says they won’t accommodate minors. Instead, they should arm themselves with the proper documentation with the assistance of legal counsel as an added layer of protection and execute it consistently.
“For the hotel we worked with in California, we came up with a statement to be signed upon check-in by parents and unaccompanied minors to protect the hotels and provide peace of mind,” she said. “We have these acknowledgements and ask parents to sign them. As long as the hotels track the documents and follow the statute, there is no problem. If a parent refuses to sign, we can refuse service or if a child is a problem, we can remove them from the property.”
Lastly, she recommends reading industry publications and tapping into resources such as the state’s hotel lodging association to stay up-to-date with changes in the law as it relates to hospitality.