Police officers are often called to hotels and motels in response to noisy or unruly guests. Often the hotel or motel keepers tell the guests to leave and the guests argue that they need advance notice. In this situation, officers must have an understanding of the difference between the legal rights of hotel/motel keepers and landlords of tenants in a typical lease arrangement. While landlords are typically required under state law to provide a certain amount of notice for an eviction, the rules are different for hotels and motels. On June 15, 2011, the Court of Appeals of Georgia decided the Lewis v. Ritz Carlton Hotel Company LLC, et al. [i], which is instructive regarding the rights of hotel or motel keepers in “evicting” guests. The relevant facts of Lewis, taken directly from the case, are as follows:
[I]n May 2006, Lewis flew to Atlanta to attend graduation ceremonies at Morehouse College, and he was picked up at the airport by his friend, Andre Patillo. Lewis and Patillo drove to the Ritz Carlton hotel. After Lewis checked in, Lewis left his bags in his room, the presidential suite, and he and Patillo went directly to the hotel’s club lounge where Lewis ordered a drink. Lewis began speaking loudly on his cell phone, and other patrons complained to the staff. When Lewis went to the bar for another drink the attendant told Lewis that she would not serve him because he appeared to be intoxicated. Lewis kept repeating his request to be served, and after another guest asked Lewis to “leave it alone,” Lewis told him to “sit his ass down” and stay out of his business. According to the concierge, Lewis made his point using “racially charged” language, after which several guests got up and left the lounge. Lewis deposed that he was not intoxicated, and stated that “if I laughed too loud, if I talked too loud” or if he told someone to “sit his ass down,” there was nevertheless no “yelling, screaming, no pushing, shoving, none of that. Nothing.
Celestin, the hotel manager, received a call from security, who asked her to go the club lounge. She went to the lounge, identified herself to Lewis as the hotel manager, and she asked Lewis to lower his voice. She later asked him to leave the lounge and go to his room. Lewis did not leave the lounge when asked, but he eventually went to his suite. Shortly thereafter, Lewis heard a loud knock at the door, and Patillo let a policeman and Celestin into the room. According to Lewis, the officer told him “[y]ou’re either voluntarily like leaving the hotel, or I’m arresting you.” Lewis asked to give his side of the story, and when the officer was not interested, Lewis told the officer “since you’re taking that attitude, do what you think should happen.” The officer then handcuffed Lewis and escorted him out of the hotel and to his police car. According to Patillo, the police officer repeatedly insisted that Lewis get his belongings and leave the hotel before the officer arrested Lewis.
The arresting officer deposed that he was dispatched to the Ritz Carlton, where he spoke with managers who complained of an unruly guest who refused to leave. The officer accompanied management and hotel security to Lewis’s room, where he asked Lewis to leave the hotel. Lewis protested that he had done nothing wrong, and after Lewis refused to comply with several requests to leave, the officer arrested him and took him to jail on charges of criminal trespass. Lewis’s accusation for criminal trespass was subsequently nolle prossed with the notation “lack of probable cause. [ii]
Lewis later sued for false imprisonment and the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the defendants summary judgment motion, and the case was dismissed. Lewis appealed the grant of summary judgment to the Court of Appeals of Georgia.
Lewis first contended his arrest was unlawful because the hotel manager was required to give him advance notice that he had to leave. Thus, the court first looked at whether a hotel or motel manager can order a guest to leave the premises or if advance notice is required. The court stated:
A hotel keeper may evict a guest without advance notice for cause, including failure to pay the bill, lack of reservations, failure to abide by the rules of occupancy or “other action by a guest.” Thus a hotel manager is entitled to terminate a room rental agreement without prior notice for, among other things, “creating a disturbance at the hotel.” OCGA § 43-21-3.1 (a). [iii]
The court noted that clear evidence supported the fact that Lewis created a disturbance in the hotel lounge and caused other guests to complain and leave the lounge. He also told another guest to “sit his ass down.” Based upon this, the court found that Celestin, the hotel keeper, had grounds to conclude that Lewis was causing a disturbance and could thus, evict him without advance notice.
Lewis also argued that the officer’s instruction for him to leave did not constitute as a criminal trespass warning. It should be noted that the criminal trespass charge against Lewis was dismissed for “lack of probable cause.” To this argument, the court first noted that Lewis admitted that the officer told him to leave, and it is undisputed that Lewis refused to leave. Further, evidence supports the fact that the officer who told Lewis to leave was acting within the authority and direction of Ritz Carlton and hotel management when he told Lewis to leave. The court then stated:
Probable cause is defined to be the existence of such facts and circumstances as would excite the belief in a reasonable mind, that the person charged was guilty of the crime for which he was arrested and prosecuted.” In light of the foregoing, including Lewis’s refusal to leave the hotel when instructed to do so by a police officer in the presence of hotel management, the “facts and circumstances [were] sufficient for a prudent person to believe [Lewis] committed [the] offense” of criminal trespass. Further, exigent circumstances authorized the warrantless arrest because “the offense [was] committed in such officer’s presence or within such officer’s immediate knowledge.” Accordingly, no issue of material fact remained as to the probable cause and exigent circumstances which authorized Lewis’s arrest on the charge of criminal trespass, and the trial court correctly granted summary judgment to Ritz Carlton and Celestin on Lewis’s false imprisonment claim. [iv] [emphasis added]
Therefore, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the defendants in this case.
In conclusion, based upon state law, a hotel or motel keeper may evict a guest for cause failure to pay the bill, lack of reservations, failure to abide by the rules of occupancy and no advance notice is required.
Note: Court holdings can vary significantly between jurisdictions. As such, it is advisable to seek the advice of a local prosecutor or legal adviser regarding questions on specific cases. This article is not intended to constitute legal advice on a specific case.