INTRODUCTION AND DEFINITIONS: : Americans like to travel and motels and hotels are as much a part of the average American’s life as restaurants, movies and freeways. Only when something goes wrong with a room or a stay does the issue of what law applies and who is responsible for the possible damage caused arise. When that situation ocurs, suddenly the questions of characterization of the accommodation can be critical. An inn is not a hotel, is not a boarding house, is not a motel…or are they? What are you paying for when you arrive at the check in desk?

Hotels can be defined as commercial establishments that provide lodging and, often, meals and other services to the public. The word “hotel” is usually synonymous with “inn,” especially an inn of high quality. The word “inn” at common law meant a place where a traveler was furnished with both lodging and entertainment, including food. Any places where transient guests are received and lodged are classified as hotels. Dixon v. Robbins, 246 N.Y. 169 (N.Y. 1927). The proprietor of an inn or hotel is an innkeeper or hotelkeeper, respectively. It is not required that a establishment provide food and drink to its guests in addition to lodging to be a hotel.

The distinctive features of a hotel or an inn are that it receives transient guests and provides lodging. The character of a place as an inn or hotel is determined by the types of facilities available and services offered, and not by the type of structure or the surrounding property.

Establishments which furnish lodging to transients, although designated motels, may be deemed hotels. The word “motel” generally denotes a small hotel where lodgings are available for hire, with a minimum of personal service being furnished by the proprietor. Schermer v. Fremar Corp., 36 N.J. Super. 46 (Ch.Div. 1955). The term “motel” originally applied to hotels which had locales for cars to park (“motor-hotels” become “motels”) when cars first began traveling around the nation and most hotels then did not have designated locations for parking. Thus, motels were located on high ways and made to be convenient for people traveling in cars. As more and more hotels offered parking, this distinction become obsolete and motels became simply informal hotels.

While there is a certain similarity between inns and hotels, and boarding, lodging, and rooming houses, the two types of accommodations differ from each other in certain fundamental characteristics. The major distinction is that in the case of boarding house, the proprietor deals with his or her customers individually with respect to terms and accommodations and exercises the right to reject any or all applicants at his or her pleasure, while in the case of inns and hotels the proprietor deals with the public generally on the basis of an implied contract and may not arbitrarily refuse to receive as a guest one who is entitled to be so received. A boardinghouse has also been said to differ from an inn or both in being less public in character and in arranging with its patrons to provide for them during some more or less definite period. The distinction at common law between an innkeeper and a boarding or lodging house keeper is that the innkeeper caters to the traveling public-the transient traveler. The lodging-house or boarding-house keeper, on the other hand, takes care of more permanent customers, who remain for longer periods and more or less permanently in the same place. Brams v. Briggs, 272 Mich. 38 (Mich. 1935).

An apartment hotel generally applies to buildings which contain non housekeeping apartments, wherein no cooking facilities are provided and the proprietor maintains a restaurant for the convenience of his guests and furnishes other service to them. Pitts v. Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority, 160 Ohio St. 129 (Ohio 1953).

A hotel operated only as a health or pleasure resort, rather than for the entertainment of transients in the course of a journey, is not an inn. However, a resort facility offering sleeping accommodations to the public may meet the statutory definition of an “innkeeper.”

A restaurant is not an inn or a hotel. A restaurant has been defined as a place where refreshments, food, and drink are served. The essential difference between a restaurant and a hotel is that in restaurants, only food and drink are served, and lodging or shelter is not furnished. Likewise, a coffeehouse is also not an inn or a hotel.



Most establishments are subject to both state and federal law since they are held to be engaged in interstate commerce. Federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, etc. apply to hotels that are available to the general public and most states have enacted similar laws as a matter of course. “Private clubs” which host guests may not be subject to such laws and it is a question of fact as to whether a locale is a hotel or not.

The status of a place of public accommodation as an inn or hotel is a question of fact and determined from the circumstances. The distinctive features of a hotel or an inn are that it receives transient guests and provides lodging. The character of a place as an inn or hotel is determined by the types of facilities available and services offered, and not by the type of structure or the surrounding property.


Duty to Accept Guests

Generally, an innkeeper is under a duty to receive all persons who offer themselves as guests. The relation of innkeeper and guest is a mutual contractual one, and the existence of intention by both parties is an essential element Langford v. Vandaveer, 254 S.W.2d 498 (Ky. 1953).

A guest is a transient person who resorts to and is received at an inn for the purpose of obtaining the accommodation which it proposes to afford. But it is essential that a party must be a transient and if s/he is transient s/he may become a guest. It is laid down as one of the distinctive features of the relation that a guest is received under an implied contract. Pettit v. Thomas, 103 Ark. 593 (Ark. 1912).

If one holds himself/herself out to the public as an innkeeper, and is accustomed to receive all who apply and a transient goes to the house to procure accommodation and receives entertainment, the relationship is created. A guest may be accepted at a hotel, without registration, by the mere delivery to him/her of the key to a room by the clerk. It is not mandatory that a guest must sign a hotel register as the evidence of the contract between the parties. Such contracts are mere matters of oral consent, and are legal without further formality. Moody v. Kenny, 153 La. 1007 (La. 1923). See our article on Contracts.

It is to be noted that, if a person is wrongfully ejected from a restaurant, then s/he is entitled to recover damages for injury to his/her feelings as a result of the humiliation. However, provided that the laws against discrimination are not violated, an innkeeper is not under obligation to receive as a guest everyone who applies. S/he has the right to reject or expel persons whom s/he reasonably deems objectionable. A person becomes a guest only if s/he is received to be treated as a guest and the intention to become such must be communicated to the innkeeper or his/her agent.

However, a mere guest of the registered occupant of a room at a hotel, who shares such room with its occupant without the knowledge or consent of the hotel management, will not be treated as a guest of the hotel. It is to be noted that the rights of hotel guests are not assignable or transferable. Therefore, if a registered guest, without permission from anyone representing the hotel, transferred a room to another person, that person will not have any right to its possession. Morningstar v. Lafayette Hotel Co., 211 N.Y. 465 (N.Y. 1914). It may be noted that a person who is not a guest and has no intention of becoming a guest will not have the legal right to enter or remain in a hotel against the will of the innkeeper. Such a person has a duty to leave peacefully when requested.



Generally, an innkeeper, under the common law doctrine of infra hospitium, is strictly liable for loss or damage to a guest’s property unless the property is lost or destroyed by an act of God, public enemy, or by the fault of the guest, or from some irresistible force other than the act of God or from an inevitable accident without fault by the innkeeper. Some jurisdictions allow the innkeeper to exonerate by showing that the loss or injury was not attributable to any fault of the innkeeper or an employee or agent. Innkeepers shall also be liable for the injury caused by the defective condition of the inn premises.

Public policy requires an innkeeper to be insurer of the property of his or her guests. An illegal act of the guest during the loss of or injury to his/her property shall not relieve the innkeeper of liability when the conduct is not the proximate cause of the loss. However, a person going to a hotel for an unlawful purpose shall not become a guest and therefore not entitled to a protection.

When a property not in the custody of a guest is lost or damaged, an innkeeper is liable only as a bailee for the property of guests. As a bailee, an innkeeper is liable only for gross negligence. Usually, an innkeeper’s liability extends to all the goods brought by a guest and received within the inn. An innkeeper owes a duty of providing security for the innkeeper’s guests and their baggage, and is liable if that duty is breached by the negligence of the innkeeper or the innkeeper’s employees.

The innkeeper shall be liable for the loss of the guest’s property and it shall extend to money, automobile or contents of the automobile, and any goods carried for commercial purpose. The liability of an innkeeper for the loss or injury to another’s property depends on the on the existence of the relationship of innkeeper and guest between the parties at the time of such loss or injury. The liability or responsibility of an innkeeper starts at the moment of the delivery of the goods. An innkeeper is not liable even as a bailee for the property of persons who do not intend to be guests.

An innkeeper is liable for the loss of or damage to a guest’s goods when they are being transported to or from the inn at his or her request. To charge an innkeeper with the extraordinary liability of an innkeeper for the safety of the property of a guest, the property should be in some manner placed in the custody and control of the innkeeper. A guest may retain personal custody of his or her goods within the inn without discharging the innkeeper from responsibility.

Wherever an innkeeper puts the goods of the guest, whether opened or closed, whether checkroom maintained by innkeeper or not, is within the limits of the inn. Liability of an innkeeper shall be established if the guest checks in baggage, car keys and such things to the innkeeper or an employee.

Note that many hotels post a policy describing their limitations of liability for property and providing an in room safe or a safe at the front desk for valuables. Assuming the posting is reasonable, this can limit the liability to what is stolen from the safe, not what is simply left out in the room, unless negligence was shown by the inn keeper in selection of employees, etc. A stipulation in the form of a notice that the innkeeper is relieved of all responsibility for loss or that the goods are kept at the owner’s risk does not relieve the innkeeper from liability for loss caused by his or her own negligence or that of an employee. See our article on torts. Likewise, an inn keeper who keeps unsafe premises such that a guest is a victim of a crime may be liable for the unsafe condition under that same theory of negligence.

The innkeeper-guest relationship comes to an end when the guest pays the bill and checks out of the hotel. However, the liability of the innkeeper as such does not terminate at the instant the guest pays the bill and leaves the hotel. When the relationship of innkeeper and guest has been terminated by the departure of the guest, the innkeeper is ordinarily deemed to be liable only as a gratuitous bailee for the property of the guest entrusted to his or her custody for storage or safekeeping.

Until the goods of a departing guest are delivered at a designated place or to the guest, such as a transportation depot, the innkeeper shall be liable. This liability exists though the innkeeper receives no additional compensation for providing this service. An innkeeper shall contract with a guest to receive the guest’s goods as an ordinary bailee, to keep it either for a reward or otherwise, and thus, be excused from extraordinary liability as an innkeeper.

An innkeeper may limit his/her common-law liability for the loss of or injury to the property of guests or make his or her liability therefore dependent upon the guests’ compliance with such rules or regulations, provided they are reasonable and due notice of the rules is given to the guest. A reasonable notice of the proprietor’s rule or regulation limiting his/her liability should be given to the guest in order to modify the common-law liability of the innkeeper. This is commonly done by written notices in the room.

In almost all jurisdictions, statutes modify or limit the strict common-law liability of the innkeeper for the loss of or damage to property of guests. Statutes modifying or limiting the common-law liability of an innkeeper for the loss of a guest’s property usually apply to money, jewelry, precious stones, or articles of small bulk which are to be kept within a safe or the sleeping room of the guest.

Generally, the right to recover against an innkeeper for the loss of or injury to the goods of a guest is based on a breach of duty imposed by law. The doctrine of contributory negligence is applicable to bar or diminish the damages recoverable by a guest in an action against an innkeeper for loss of the guest’s property.



At common law, an innkeeper entitled to a lien was one who held out his/her place as one for the entertainment of all respectable transient persons who chose to come to him. However, the statutory lien is not confined to transients, although the word hotel is substantially restricted to the common-law definition of an inn.

A hotel keeper has a lien upon the baggage of any guest which may be in his/her hotel. Cedar Rapids Inv. Co. v. Commodore Hotel Co., 205 Iowa 736 (Iowa 1928). But, to entitle a person to assert an innkeeper’s lien, s/he must receive property as the goods of a guest.

Baggage includes all property which is in any hotel belonging to or under the control of any guest. The lien is upon baggage of any guest which may be in the hotel. It is the property of the guest, or under his/her control in the hotel, and not other property of the guest not located on the premises. Cedar Rapids Inv. Co. v. Commodore Hotel Co., 205 Iowa 736 (Iowa 1928). Note that an automobile kept by the occupant of an apartment house in a garage adjacent to the apartment is not “baggage.” See, however, our article on Garageman’s Lien.

The hotel keeper may take and retain possession of all baggage and may enforce his/her claim by an ordinary legal action. M. & M. Hotel Co. v. Nichols, 32 N.E.2d 463 (Ohio Ct. App., Hamilton County 1935). The baggage is subject to attachment and execution for the reasonable charges of the hotel keeper against the guest, and for the costs of enforcing the lien thereon.

If the hotel keeper does not proceed by an ordinary legal action s/he can retain the baggage upon which s/he has a lien for a specified period, at the expiration of which time, if such lien is not satisfied, s/he may sell such baggage.

The lien of an innkeeper extends to all the property brought by the guest to the inn and received by the innkeeper. The lien extends to all baggage and wearing apparel, furniture, and other personal property brought within the protection of the innkeeper.

Similarly, the law gives to any innkeeper a lien whether the goods are the property of the traveler or the property of third parties from whom it has been hired or even fraudulently taken or stolen, if the innkeeper is bona fide, e.g. has no notice of the wrong and acts honestly.

In order to enforce the lien, a motel, hotel, inn, furnished apartment house, boardinghouse, and lodging house keeper has the right to enter peaceably the premises used by his/her guest in such premises without liability to such guest for conversion, trespass, or forcible entry. Klim v. Jones, 315 F. Supp. 109, 111 (N.D. Cal. 1970).

The courts determined that this prejudgment taking is valid under Constitutional law. The enforcement of lien rights is not contrary to public policy. A statute providing for a lien to secure payment for services rendered does not violate substantive due process. Kerrigan v. Boucher, 326 F. Supp. 647 (D. Conn. 1971).

Under some jurisdictions lien rights on baggage and effects kept at a lodging house arise only when a special agreement has been made between the keeper of any lodging house and any person lodging at such house, regarding the price of such lodging. And here it must be stressed that there is a substantial difference between a lodger and a tenant. The distinction between a lodger and a tenant is that the goods of the lodger are subject to a lien for unpaid rent, while those of a tenant are not. Mathews v. Livingston, 86 Conn. 263 (Conn. 1912). The theory behind that differential is that a lodger is much more likely to move him or herself and the possessions outside the jurisdiction.

The lien in favor of a boarding-house keeper consists in his/her right to retain possession of the chattels in opposition to the title of the guest until the charge respecting them is paid. The detention of the property of the guest by the boarding-house keeper is necessary to hold the lien, and if the latter parts with his/her possession of it, the lien is lost, and s/he cannot afterwards retake the property. Brown v. Harmon, 59 Ga. App. 373 (Ga. Ct. App. 1939).



Generally, an innkeeper gives a general license to all persons to enter his/her inn. It is not a trespass for one to enter an inn without a previous actual invitation. A guest is a paying patron of an inn or hotel. A guest is staying in a hotel for his own purpose. A guest is not interested in the business purposes of a hotel. A voluntary departure without an intention of return terminates the guest relationship. Duties arising out of the innkeeper-guest relationship are terminated when the guest pays the bill and checks out of the hotel. An innkeeper may lawfully refuse to entertain objectionable characters calculated to injure his business or guests in a hazardous, uncomfortable or dangerous situation. The innkeeper need not accept anyone as a guest who is calculated to and will injure his/her business. State v. Steele, 106 N.C. 766 (N.C. 1890). Note that this does not include the right to discriminate based on race, religion, ethnicity, etc. regardless of whether it would injure the business of the innkeeper.

A guest has a right to remain in the hotel for a reasonable time. Upon the expiration of the rental period, a hotel guest has no right to use the room. S/he also loses any privacy interest associated with the room. State v. Ahumada, 125 Ariz. 316, 318 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1980).

In order to remain in the hotel a guest must behave “properly.” A guest must pay the amount charged. A guest becomes a trespasser when s/he conducts himself/herself in a disorderly manner and refuses to leave upon request. Additionally, an innkeeper can eject from the hotel, any person who is unwilling or unable to pay for accommodations and services of the hotel or the lodging house. A guest can be ejected by resorting to necessary force. There is no necessity to acquire a right of action for ejecting a guest who behaves improperly or disorderly. State v. Gordon, 437 A.2d 855 (Me. 1981). However, in the event the innkeeper is mistaken as to the guests conduct and utilizes inappropriate means to eject, liability against the innkeeper would lie.

A guest admitted to an inn can be removed thereafter by the innkeeper for:

  • refusal to pay his bill;
  • becoming obnoxious to the other guests by his/her own fault;
  • becoming a person of general bad reputation; or
  • behaving in a disorderly manner.

An innkeeper can refuse to entertain “objectionable characters” that would otherwise injure his/her business and placing himself or his guests in a hazardous, uncomfortable, or dangerous situation. Raider v. Dixie Inn, 198 Ky. 152, 153-154 (Ky. 1923).

In one case, the guest paid her board and lodging for a week in advance. She proved that she was residing elsewhere and came to the hotel for treatment. She stayed in the hotel for a week. Later she was informed that she no longer had a room at that hotel. When questioned, the proprietors argued that the guest was a woman of “bad character.” The proprietors argued that she was a recent inmate of a house of prostitution and was of notoriously immoral character. The proprietors claimed to lose business because of her presence at their hotel. The court held that the proprietors are permitted to lawfully refuse to entertain objectionable characters, injuring their business or to place the hotel in an uncomfortable situation. The court added that the means used to remove were not unlawful.

In another case, Bertuca v. Martinez, 2006 Tex. App. LEXIS 1386 (Tex. App. San Antonio Feb. 22, 2006), the occupant checked into a room and asked not to be disturbed. His mother not able to reach him asked the front desk to check on him. Hotel staff knocked the door and there was no response, except the sound of breaking glasses. The proprietor informed the police and he was arrested on refusal to answer to police inquiry and resistance. Later charges were dropped. However, the occupant and his mother brought an action against the hotel. The court observed that there is no landlord-tenant relationship between a hotel and its guest. “When a guest is obnoxious for some reason, he may be forcibly removed without resort to legal process, provided no more force is used than necessary”.

Public inns are conducted for travelers and transient persons. An innkeeper’s liability exists only in the case of one who is a traveler and seeks the hospitality of the inn as a transient guest. Under the common law, an inn keeper owes an extraordinary duty of protection, both of person and of property of travelers and transient persons. However, an innkeeper has no duty as to one who has lost that status.

Further, there are limits as to how long one may maintain legally the guest status. A person is not entitled to stay indefinitely. A person can be ejected on reasonable notice without any other reason. Additionally, an innkeeper can eject a guest engaged in unlawful or objectionable conduct. When a guest’s stay is detrimental to the hotel, s/he can be removed. Some statutes empowers innkeeper to exclude disorderly persons. United States v. Allen, 106 F.3d 695, 699 (6th Cir. Ky. 1997).

An innkeeper exercising his/her right to remove a guest must remove the guest in a reasonable and prudent manner. Moreover, a guest cannot be removed for an improper ground. An innkeeper cannot use force in ejecting a guest or invitee only on guest’s refusal to depart. S/he must first request the guest to depart. An innkeeper cannot use more force than is reasonably necessary to effect the ejection.



The overwhelming majority of cases against hotels involve unsafe conditions and obnoxious guests who are disturbing other guests. In the former, a guest or guest of a guest is injured by some condition on the premises, often in the parking lot, and the hotel’s insurance company normally becomes involved. In the latter, the inn keeper is compelled to take corrective steps to preserve the peace which leads to altercations and later litigation.

The inn keeper has little choice about becoming involved if a guest is behaving in an obnoxious manner such as to alienate other guests or even cause a disturbance between guests. The wise innkeeper, however, will not risk the danger to employees inherent in confrontation with intoxicated or aggressive guests but simply utilize local police as necessary. Just because you may have the right to remove the guest does not mean that such action on your own is the best decision.

It is vital for the wise hotel keeper to make sure that the premises are as “crime proof” as possible. Relatively recent cases have held hotel keepers liable for unsafe conditions in parking lots when entrance doors have been broken or lights in the parking lot were insufficient. One client explained it well. “If I wouldn’t want my daughter to spend the night there safely, then I don’t want to run the hotel. I am doing this not just for any guest, but for the most helpless guest and that’s my job.”

More and more hotels are offering amenities such as gyms, swimming pools, game rooms, etc. The hotel is thus under a duty equivalent to anyone offering to sell access to gymnasiums or pools and should make sure sufficient additional insurance and signage is posted. Most pools do not have a life guard and in addition to posting that sign, fencing making it impossible for small children to enter the pool area without an adult is a wise precaution. Above all, adequate insurance must be carried, as in any business context.