Tourism – Changes to & legal issues on innkeeping

By Malcolm Noden
April 15, 2019 11:16 a.m.

Malcolm Noden

One of the by-products of a healthy and growing tourism industry is that, like so many other industries, it is constantly undergoing changes in many of its major parts. One of the most visible changes can be seen in the continuing expansion and change of the accommodations sector. Historians tell us that therein we have one of the oldest expressions of human activity-innkeeping!

For the truth of this, one only has to look in the bible, and to read the story of Joseph and Mary looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem, and then, when finding none, were forced to sleep in a cattle barn adjacent to an inn which had no available rooms that night. The bible does not record what, if anything, the innkeeper charged the couple to stay overnight. The only details we have of this come from the Gospel of John, Chapter 2, Verses 6 & 7, (NIV), wherein we learn of Mary’s actions after the birth, and the fact that, “…there was no room for them in the inn.”

In today’s world, not only has the related hospitality technology changed, but so has the form of innkeeping itself. Of course, we have hotels, and motels, and we have bed & breakfast inns, but now we have Air B&B’s, timeshares, RV parks, etc. and several other new forms of ownership, and styles of overnight accommodations that operate in virtually every community.

Among the many changes that have occurred in the accommodations business are those statutes and regulations promulgated by city, county and state authorities, about the how, where, who, and when of every form of overnight sleeping accommodation for rent to the general public. In order to better understand some of the trickier issues, one needs to know the operating rules of the common law regarding innkeepers, and their business.

First, and foremost is the general rule expressed as follows: Innkeepers, subject to their room’s availability, are obliged to, “Take all who come, in fit condition, who are able to pay.” Simply phrased, if you show up looking for a room at a place designated as one of public accommodations, and assuming that you are not visibly drunk, or disorderly, or are a fleeing felon, and you have the means to pay, the innkeeper cannot turn you away on any grounds whatsoever! This rule applies, regardless of whether a reservation was made in advance of arrival.

In exchange for this requirement, the innkeeper gets a significantly reduced liability risk regarding the guest, in which it is held that the innkeeper is not the “…insurer of the guest’s liability, but is only required to produce, and maintain the far lower legal standard of “reasonable care.”

So it is that what local, county or state authorities do to determine who is an innkeeper, and the difference between them and someone who is a landlord, becomes extremely important to the way in which the innkeeping business is managed and operated.

The landlord-tenant relationship has a completely different legal basis, and virtually everything about that relationship is significantly different from the innkeeping one.
At this moment, the Florida State Legislature is engaged in the consideration of several bills which, if passed, will have a profound effect upon some of the segments of the innkeeping business. One of these would have the effect of cancelling a city/county ability to regulate the use of private dwellings, including issues of limits on length of stay, and location in certain zoned areas within their geographic purview. This will likely have a very significant effect upon such industry segments as Air B&B, and certain other similar organizations in our community.

Thus, it is that, despite our personal opinions about the tourism, and the related innkeeping business, we need to be mindful of the words of William Pollard (1828–1893), the English Quaker writer and recorded minister. He was a prominent advocate of quietist Quaker theology. Speaking to the question of change he said: “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.”

Editor’s Note: Malcolm A. Noden, who is the (Retired) Senior Lecturer in Management, Economics, Marketing and Tourism at the School of Hotel Administration, at Cornell University, is a well-known expert in the applied economics of hospitality and tourism policy, promotion and development.

Noden is the past Chairman of the New York State Tourism Education Task force, an advisory board appointed by former Governor George Pataki of New York. Noden serves on the editorial board of TEOROS International, a theoretical research journal for education in tourism, and was the Cornell University representative to, and a founding member of, the World Tourism Organization, Educational and Training Board.

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3 Responses to Tourism – Changes to & legal issues on innkeeping

  1. Dave Lott says:

    An “innkeeper” renting out a room in a property in which they are also dwelling can make a huge difference in one who is renting out their entire property and is not a resident themselves. The reason cities such as FB have restrictions on landlords and innkeepers is the impact on adjacent homeowners. Subdivisions allowing short term rentals that are not owner occupied tend, in my experience, tend to have problems from such properties due to a lack of upkeep and maintenance which can affect the market value of other properties.
    While municipalities can go overboard with their restrictions, I think FB has established a reasonable level of controls and regulations to protect the guest, the property owner and other property owners in the area.

  2. Robert Warner says:

    Malcom. We do not need “Airbnb” rentals in our residential neighborhoods, for a multitude of reasons – some of which Dave Lott has indicated above. That’s why they are called residential, not “inns” or motels with landscaping. If you are so committed, perhaps you might try a test case for a year or so – limited to your own neighborhood – and let your neighbors discuss the results.

  3. mike spino says:

    SB 824 appears to be dead for this session. Thank goodness. Malcolm’s notion that we should embrace nightly rentals in residential neighborhoods because it can be managed is a falsehood. We know from local experience that local government has a limited capacity to enforce even reasonable regulations. Having daily rentals in residential neighborhoods such as downtown where homes are as little as 10 feet apart is a terrible idea. The noise and irritation of constantly “entertaining” visitors 10 feet from our homes would drive many to leave Florida. Daily rentals would seriously damage the historic district that we all admire and enjoy. This is an innovation we don’t want or need.

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