Prom season challenges properties to review policies to protect against damage and possible claims of discrimination.
(April 10, 2015) It’s spring and many hotel managers are faced with the question of how to respond to minors seeking guestrooms for prom and graduation celebrations. This year there is added urgency to how you answer this question because hotels in some states have fallen prey to internet “trolls” looking to file lawsuits for discrimination against minors.
In Washington, some hotels refuse accommodations to anyone under 18 on the grounds that minors cannot enter a legally binding contract in our state. This approach has not been tested in court, and Washington does not have a statute that specifically addresses the rights of innkeepers to restrict the renting of rooms to minors.
The Washington State Hospitality Law Manual, Third Edition, written for WLA members by Irv Sandman of Sandman Savrann and a team of hospitality law specialists, notes that Washington State law is ambiguous on the issue of accommodating minors. It also notes that “some legal authority indicates that refusing to provide accommodations to underage persons is discriminatory and in violation of state anti-discrimination laws. This theory has not been tested in a Washington court.”
An alternative to a blanket policy against renting accommodations to minors is to implement and enforce policies regarding noise after certain hours, alcohol in guestrooms, activities in hotel common areas after certain hours, and the number of persons who may occupy one room at any time. These policies need to be reasonable and justified, and all guests need to be put on notice of the policies.
The Law Manual, which is provided to WLA members free of charge, also suggests strategies that include:
Requiring at least one parent’s signature during the registration of a minor.
Making it clear in the rules that if eviction occurs, the guest will not receive a refund on the room or the cash deposit if one has been received.
Considering the hiring of extra security personnel if the size of the party warrants it. Some hotels have been sued because they failed to have sufficient security personnel to control abusive behavior.
Checking the rooms while the guests are leaving to substantiate any claims for damages.
WLA members should refer to their copies of the Washington State Hospitality Law Manual (pages 16-19) for additional information on what to include in these kinds of policies and what additional steps you can take to protect your guests and properties from disturbances and damage. Lawsuit Alert Last year we sent out a scam alert about emails that appeared to be trolling for the opportunity to file lawsuits over lodging properties’ policies against renting rooms to minors. Hoteliers in California, Michigan and Kansas reported receiving similar emails, and several who replied with their policies reported receiving demand letters from an attorney.
The California Hotel & Lodging Association recently sent out another alert to its members about new legal claims against California properties who replied to emails similar to last year’s scam. California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act and Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibit blanket policies against denying accommodations to people solely because they are minors, making California properties more likely to be targets of trolling for opportunities to sue.
WLA has not heard of a similar incidence in Washington, but it is strongly recommended that hotels do not respond in any way to emails requesting rooms for minors. Read more about the email scam here.
If you are a WLA member and need a replacement copy of the Law Manual please email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about becoming a WLA member, please contact Jennifer Hurley at 360- 956-7279 or email@example.com.
“Obligations and Liabilities Relating to Providing Guestrooms to Minors in Connection with Prom Nights and Graduation Parties,” (Hotel-Online.com, August 3, 2010)
“Accepting Minor Guests in Your Hotel: A Checklist for Handling Challenges of Underage Guests,” (HospitalityNet.org, May 16, 2004) “Age Discrimination Suit Filed Against Holiday Inn Express Hotels in Michigan for Turning Away People who are Older than 18 but Under 21,” (Detroit Free Press, October 21, 2004)