You’ve seen the articles. You’ve visited the web sites. You’ve heard that allowing guests to bring pets on vacation with them is a win-win situation because your guests are happy, they tend to stay longer at your property and, as a result, your revenues increase. Yes, increasing revenues is clearly important; however, you must first evaluate the risks and ultimate cost of having pets in your hotel verses the additional welcomed revenue.
Guests are bringing their entire families when they travel: cats, dogs, birds, fish, pigs and even snakes. The American Automobile Association states that 62% of all U.S. households own at least one pet. Of those Americans who travel with pets, 14% travel with felines, and 78% travel with canines. Guests’ traveling with pets is a trend that a responsible hotel or motel operator certainly cannot ignore. Because of this trend, an operator needs to carefully consider how best to protect employees, guests and hotel/motel property.
Housekeepers have been bitten while servicing a guestroom and other guests disturbed while they sleep by barking or whining dogs late at night. These types of activities can result in lawsuits against your property. Having a well thought out and well-written pet policy isn’t a guarantee against lawsuits from guests and employees, but it will go a long way toward avoiding litigation by anticipating some of the problems that give rise to lawsuits.
Many hotels and motels generated exceptional good will with the local and national public by allowing pets into their properties during the unwelcome visits of Bonnie, Charlie, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. I’m referring to the hurricanes and storms that swept through Florida and surrounding states last summer. Even if your decision is to operate a “no pets” hotel, it is a good business practice, and a smart idea, to have a written pet policy and be prepared for welcoming animals into your hotel during a time of crisis.
Please keep in mind that service animals that assist disabled guests, such as guide dogs, are not pets and must be welcomed into your property, without requiring a pet deposit or other fee. The Americans With Disabilities Act and additional state laws govern the relationship between innkeepers and service animals. You are restricted on what rules and regulations you may put in place when dealing with service animals in or on your property.
Below is a list of seven points to consider when creating your pet policy in order to reduce your legal exposure. As with all policies, this one should be in writing, communicated effectively to all employees, consistently applied and reinforced with constant training.
- Be specific as to what type and size pet you will allow on your property. Create a limit on size by allowing only those pets of no more than 35 pounds. Decide whether you will allow any and all types of pets: gerbils, cats, ferrets, etc. If you believe certain dog breeds are more of a threat to your guests and employees, then disallow them on your property. It is not illegal or an act of discrimination to set certain rules on certain breeds. You must, however, consistently enforce the prohibition with all guests or it could indicate an act of discrimination against a human guest.
- Insist upon a non-refundable pet deposit, based upon the reasonable cost to sanitize the guestroom and public areas, if necessary. You will need to deep clean the guest room, change HVAC filters, use air purifiers, and other sanitizing methods after the pet leaves the hotel guestroom for your next guest, who may be allergic to pet dander or saliva. Guests expect and demand clean hotel guestrooms. Failure to provide such deep cleaning may result in a lawsuit by the next guest who stays in the room if the guest has an allergic reaction to animals.
- Display your rules and regulations regarding your pet policy on your web site in order to give notice to potential guests about the rules. Require that the guest inform you of their special needs prior to bringing their pets to your property.
- Insist upon a “no-barking” and a “no-biting” rule in order to protect your other guests from being harmed or disturbed. Providing this information ahead of time to the guest will lessen the intensity of the confrontation when asking a guest to leave the property. In the unfortunate event when a guest’s pet bites another guest, take action immediately to obtain medical assistance. Your initial steps and immediate concern for your guest will likely assist in comforting the guest, who may be contemplating legal action against you and your property.
- Notify your guests of the appropriate areas to walk their dogs on your property and the necessity to clean up after the dog relieves itself.
- Require guests who bring their pets with them to your property to:
- a. Provide evidence of updated vaccinations upon check-in.
- b. Clean up after their pets whether inside or outside the hotel.
- c. Keep their pet on a leash at all times in public areas.
- d. Keep their pet in a crate when the guest leaves the guestroom to avoid innocent housekeepers from being bitten and the furnishings in the room from being destroyed.
- e. Provide a nametag with identification and a current rabies tag to be worn by the dog/cat at all times.
- f. Use the designated “relief” areas for their pets (and you might want to consider providing an ample supply of clean-up bags for your guests’ use).
- g. Keep all pets out of dining areas, pool areas, tennis courts and golf courses.
- h. Use a “Pet In Room” sign on their door to alert the housekeeping staff and room service attendants of a pet in the room.
- i. Utilize a first floor guestroom for easy access to outdoor areas, to reduce interaction with other guests and to eliminate the need for the use of elevators.
- j. Sign a waiver and provide the hotel with an indemnification so that the hotel is not responsible for any injury or damage the pet may cause to your property or other guests.
- Your guests may also appreciate your providing the following:
- a. Flashlights for nighttime walks.
- b. Local dog walking and pet sitting services.
- c. Pet grooming services in the area.
- d. A list of local pet stores.
- e. Local veterinarians.
To lessen your legal exposure related to recommending an outside service (a service not provided by your property), you will want to thoroughly research all vendors, in advance, so that you recommend to your guests only those businesses that are reliable, honest, provide excellent service and will treat your guests with respect and dignity. Remember that your recommendation is a reflection on your hotel and your referral might create legal exposure for your property.
This article contains general information. It is not designed to be and should not be relied upon as your sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a specific legal issue. Each fact situation is different; the laws are constantly changing. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult with competent legal counsel.
Diana S. Barber, Esq. is the founder of LodgeLaw, A Division of Barber Law Associates, a law firm specializing in hospitality law. She also teaches at Cecil B. Day Hospitality School at Georgia State University and is a member of Georgia Hospitality & Travel Association. For more information, Ms. Barber can be reached at (770) 813-9363, or [email protected]
This article contains general information. It is not designed to be and should not be relied on as your sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a specific legal issue. Each fact situation is different; the laws are constantly changing. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult with competent legal counsel.