An independent hotelier’s guide to post-pandemic law
Owning and operating a hotel has never been easy, and it can be even more difficult for independent hoteliers. With the ever-evolving landscape, it’s important hoteliers know the latest legal implications as we continue down the path to recovery. With that in mind, I co-hosted an education session at AAHOACON21 with AAHOA then-Secretary, now-Treasurer Bharat Patel that explored post-pandemic law for independent hoteliers where we discussed a host of hot-button issues, including evictions, ADA lawsuits, and how independent hoteliers can best protect their businesses in light of issues like these that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic and the aggressively litigious society in which we all live.
During the session, Bharat and I asked attendees to raise their hands if they had been in the hotel business for several years and had not yet been sued. Virtually no hands went up.
Simply put, if you haven’t been sued yet, it’s just a matter of time. The question is, what are you going to do with the time you have between this moment and that fateful day to best prepare? The clock is ticking. And even if you have been sued before, it almost certainly wasn’t your last time going through the process. And if you don’t believe your time is coming, consider this: There are currently at least as many students in law school as there are practicing lawyers. The firms can’t possibly hire all those lawyers, assuming even 70% of them graduate and pass the bar exam. There aren’t enough firms to hire all those lawyers. Many of them, then, will start their own practices, and at least some of them will start looking for easy-to-win (or settle) cases. That can bring them to your door.
But there are several key steps hotels can take to guard against frivolous lawsuits, and that process begins with identifying potential problems well ahead of time. As Bharat said during our session, any hotelier can be sued at any point in time for anything. That’s the bad news. But the silver lining is that once you’ve been notified of a lawsuit, you have several options at your disposal. And before you do anything, as an AAHOA Member, you have legal resources at your disposal, so reach out to AAHOA immediately once you’ve been notified of a lawsuit filed against you.
Second, you need to move as quickly as you can to document as much as possible. For example, are you being sued because a guest allegedly found bed bugs in a room? Locate a pest control specialist certified in bed bugs to inspect your property with the hope of getting a clean report. Interview staff and take statements. Ultimately, you need to document, document, document everything, even if it doesn’t seem significant. You need as long and deep a paper trail as possible. The more of a paper trail you can create, the greater the likelihood of the lawsuit being dismissed outright.
Another area of concern for hoteliers, for a litany of reasons, is human trafficking. Putting aside for a moment the responsibility hoteliers bear in helping eliminate this scourge on their properties, a hotel owner can face criminal and civil implications should a court find the property and its staff to have been negligent, or worse, complicit, in issues of human trafficking. Again, AAHOA has resources to train members on this issue, so be sure to take advantage of that option. And training your staff on ways to spot trafficking can drastically cut your risk of this kind of lawsuit darkening your door.
The simple fact is that for everything we enjoy about this industry, hotels can be an easy target for lawsuits. Taking steps today, or at least knowing what your options are if, and when, that day comes will go a long way toward protecting you, your family, your livelihood, your employees, and your future.