“Meth smoke is a heavy, sticky substance, much like nicotine.” “It gets on every surface and stays there forever, unless it’s properly cleaned.” The Fourth Amendment protects people against unlawful searches and seizures. Any evidence found during these unlawful searches is usually excluded from admission in a court case, and without that key evidence, charges are normally dismissed. If the hotel guest is lawfully in possession of the hotel room, meaning he checked in and the check-out time hasn’t passed, and he hasn’t been evicted, the guest has the right not to have his hotel room searched by anyone, including a maid or housekeeper. But what if the guest had been so loud that the hotel manager has told the guest he is in violation of clearly communicated hotel policy, and the guest is being kicked out of the hotel? That notice serves as an eviction, and the guest no longer has Fourth Amendment rights. The housekeeper can enter the room, and inform management of any drugs. Management can then contact the police, who will get a warrant, search the premises, obtain the guest’s contact information from the hotel registry, and potentially arrest the guest.
What if the guest has checked out and accidentally left behind some drugs?
The guest’s Fourth Amendment rights went right out the door with the guest. As the saying goes, the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. If a housekeeper comes across drugs in a room after checkout, then the housekeeper could lawfully inform hotel management, who call the police, and set the arrest may process in motion.
What Is a Hotel Housekeeper Tattles Anyway?
If a maid or housekeeper finds drugs in your hotel room, tells hotel management, who then tells hotel police, what can you do about it? The first thing to do is to clear your name of any drug charges by asserting your Fourth Amendment rights. But then what? Interestingly, though the police did violate your fourth amendment rights by entering your room, they will undoubtedly hide behind the rules of sovereign immunity to escape any consequences. However, the hotel also violated your constitutional rights, and therefore you do have a Civil Rights claim against the hotel, and the hotel chain. It was unlawful for them to provide the drug information and your name off of their registry. Sovereign immunity rarely extends to the hotel. And therefore, a guest whose Fourth Amendment rights were violated can file suit against the hotel, even for injuries sustained when the police arrested the guest.
If you have been charged with a crime for drugs found in your hotel room, contact a local criminal defense attorney, who can review the facts of your case. You may be able to escape criminal charges, and maybe even recover money against the hotel.
Crime Prevention in Overnight Lodging
Prostitution, drug activity, and other criminal behavior can harm a hotel or motel and damage the surrounding community. The information in this booklet will give you, the innkeeper, tools to help prevent illegal activity from occurring on your premises. Not all information provided will be appropriate for every lodging situation. What works for a twenty-room motel near a residential neighborhood may not be appropriate for a 200-room hotel in a downtown business district. Every innkeeper is encouraged to review all the material, then implement those approaches that could work at your establishment.
Drug Activity, Prostitution, and the Law
If you allow your property to be used for prostitution, gambling, drug dealing, or drug manufacturing, you risk both financial judgments and the possibility of having the property closed for up to a year. The action may be brought by state or local attorneys, or by any person living or doing business in the same county.
Why Prevention Works
If you allow guests involved in illegal activity to rent your rooms, your property becomes more attractive to those who cause problems. As problem guests become regulars, good guests become scarce. The longer the cycle continues, the more expensive it is to stop. As the problem worsens, you may face the choice of turning away guests you depend on or facing expensive court costs and civil penalties. Innkeepers who practice effective crime prevention and work hard to attract good clientele experience just the opposite – as problem guests become scarce, desirable guests check in more often, vacancy rates go down, and profits go up. For these reasons prevention steps are both easier to carry out, and less expensive, than the steps required for crisis control.
Commitment: The First Step
While crime prevention techniques can be taught, the commitment to use them cannot. For some, applying suggestions from this booklet will come naturally. For others, there may be difficulty learning new habits. A few may even be reluctant to use the techniques out of a belief that without accepting some “bad” guests the business could not operate. However, experience has shown that even one bad guest can repel many good ones. Commitment pays off: any lodging that can survive with “bad” guests can thrive once improvements are made, over time attracting good clientele and prospering financially. While each of the ideas in this booklet can help, the most consistent factor in determining the effectiveness of any approach is your commitment to succeed. The key is in making the commitment to use the tools, and then assuring that all employees are ready to help carry them out. Many of the following steps make good sense for any establishment, while some may be appropriate for only those establishments with a history of problems. Nevertheless, don’t be afraid to take the steps you need to protect your property – if you do it in an accommodating manner, only dishonest people should object.
The physical appearance of your hotel or motel can make a big difference to your ability to prevent illegal activity. Many of the elements that make your business attractive to desirable guests will also discourage problem guests. In general, any steps that show you care about the premises and watch for trouble will help.
Visibility and Access
Let troublemakers know they will be seen:
• Install outdoor lighting and remove “hiding places.: If you are planning to make only one environmental change, make this one. Problem behavior is more likely to occur in areas that are dark or dimly lit or where opportunities to hide are plentiful. Brighten up parking lots, sidewalks, hallways, and alleys. Keep bushes and shrubs trimmed. For fencing, use “Cyclone” or other see-through barriers.
• Control traffic flow and access: If you are having a problem controlling access to the grounds around the building, consider blocking some parking exits, adding fencing, and rerouting traffic so all automobile and foot traffic – coming and going – must pass within view of the office. If more control is needed, issue parking permits to guests and registered visitors, dated for the length of stay. Post signs forbidding cars without permits to use the motel lot and be consistent in having violators towed away. Remember, it is your parking lot, not a public one.
• Control and monitor building entrances: The fewer your building entrances, the easier they are to monitor. If your building has public hallways and common areas, channel guests through the fewest entry points possible. For required fire exits, make them “exit only” doors and consider converting them to alarm doors, suitable for emergency use only. Ideally, the entrances that remain should be visible from the office, or monitored by closed circuit TV as described in the following paragraph.
• Install a video-monitoring system that, at minimum, covers the registration area: A monitoring system provides a video record if an incident should occur. It also acts as a deterrent – people contemplating illegal activity are less likely to use your premises if they know you have their picture. In addition, some innkeepers use video monitoring to look at potential guests before meeting them in the registration area – allowing time to observe obvious warning signs prior to discussing registration. Some add a sign near the monitor that states: “For your protection and ours, guest registrations may be videotaped.” Although video monitoring can be used to cover many parts of the property, at minimum monitor the registration desk and outdoor traffic passing by the office. If you have problem areas that are not monitored, have employees check them as often as every 15 minutes during hours when activity has typically occurred. While some large-scale monitoring installations can be expensive, there are many systems appropriate for the needs and price ranges of smaller businesses. Some systems you can even install yourself. Aggressive shopping – comparing products and prices – should get you the system you want.
Appearance and Maintenance
A building that looks cared for will not only attract good customers – it will also discourage many who are involved in illegal activity. Any changes that help communicate “safe, quiet, & clean” may further protect the premises.
• Keep the exterior looking clean and fresh: Add a new coat of paint, keep garden strips well tended, and pick up litter regularly.
• Maintain the rooms: Assure that guest rooms appear clean and well maintained. Poor maintenance of rooms will not only harm repeat business from good customers, it will also tell bad customers that standards are low.
• Remove graffiti: Graffiti may be the random work of a juvenile delinquent, or the work of a gang member marking territory. Regardless, it serves as an invitation for more problems. If you believe graffiti may be gang related, call the Police Bureau’s Gang Enforcement Team. Then remove it or paint it over immediately. Remove it again if it reappears – do not let it become an eyesore.
• Repair vandalism.: As with graffiti, an important part of discouraging vandalism is to repair the problem fast. If the vandalism appears directed against you personally, advise the police immediately and discuss additional approaches to addressing the situation.
Marketing themes can enhance, or undermine, the lodging’s appeal. Evaluating the way you advertise the lodging is every bit as important as evaluating your standards for monitoring, access control, appearance, and maintenance. A motel may suffer from too few good customers because its advertising message is not effective, because the message is weak compared to the competition’s, or even because the message is attractive to those involved in illegal activity. Just as every aspect of your business’s appearance should communicate “clean, safe, and comfortable,” so should your advertising.
As you review the following list, keep in mind that many items are not significant unless seen in conjunction with others.
• Registrants who park their vehicles well away from the office area. If you are suspicious, request that they pull the car around so you can verify the plate number.
• Guests who list a local address at registration, yet indicate a desire to stay for many days.
• Guests who give a post office box as their street address. Note that this applies more to urban addresses than to rural locations – in some rural areas a post office box is the only address of the residence.
• Incomplete or unreadable information provided on the registration card, such as insubstantial address or illegible writing.
• Lack of picture I.D. and/or stories about lost I.D. Also, one member of a couple may show I.D., while the other refuses.
• Guests who arrive in a car but can’t produce a driver’s license.
• Inconsistencies between I.D. and registration information, such as different dates of birth or home addresses.
• Requests for specific units, particularly ones that are out of the way or difficult to see from the office.
• A willingness to pay for multiple nights in advance, particularly in cash.
• Evidence of large amounts of cash.
• Pagers and cellular phones used by people who otherwise appear to be of low economic status.
• Guests moving a large number of items into the room – particularly large trunks or other bulky containers. Or guests moving no luggage at all into the room.
• Physical and/or behavioral signs that indicate significant intoxication or drug influence.
• High visitor traffic – cars and pedestrians stopping for brief periods. May indicate a drug dealing operation.
• A steady pattern of male visitors who stay for a short while. May indicate prostitution.
• Many phone calls – incoming or outgoing – particularly if late at night.
• Refusal of maid service, or requests to cancel service for the duration of the visit.
• Consistent requests for room service to be left outside the door, rather than brought into the room.
• Guests who check in and stay for only a few hours.
• Visitors who are not familiar with the guest they are visiting. For example, may know a guest’s first name but not last.
• Visitors bringing “valuables” into the room – televisions, VCRs, cameras – and leaving empty-handed.
• Odd car behavior – visitors parking a few blocks away and walking up, visitors sitting in the car for a while after leaving or leaving one person in the car while the other visits.
• “Lookouts” who hang out near the room during heavy traffic hours.
• Extra efforts made to cover windows or reinforce room doors.
• Makeshift alarms installed on room doors.
• Quantities of balloons or small “Ziplock” plastic bags – the type that jewelry beads are sometimes kept in.
• Sophisticated weighing scales – accurate to gram weights and smaller.
• “Outlaw” motorcycle gang activity.
• Firearms, particularly assault weapons and those that have been modified for concealment, such as sawed-off shotguns. If weapons are being shown under suspicious circumstances, call 911 immediately and describe the situation and people involved.
• Various obvious signs such as exchanges of small packets for cash, known prostitutes or pimps visiting guest rooms, people using drugs while sitting in their cars, syringes and other drug paraphernalia lying about.
Your Right to Privacy in a Hotel Room
The Fourth Amendment protects people from being subjected to “unreasonable searches and seizures” by government actors – in other words, police officers. Under the law, police cannot barge into your residence without a warrant. If you are a hotel guest, you enjoy the same right to privacy in your room. However, a hotel owner and its employees are not government agents. Typically, if guests use their rooms in an ordinary, expected manner, then those guests should expect that the hotel will honor their right to privacy. Still, the hotel retains the right to enter a room for housekeeping, maintenance and to protect their property from destruction. Hotel management also retains the right to enter and search a room without a guest’s permission if the staff believes the guest is engaging in illegal acts within the room or through use of the room. A hotel employee could report what he or she saw in the room to the hotel’s management. A manager would then have a duty to call the police. By doing so, the hotel might provide police with probable cause to obtain a warrant. If a search of the room leads to a drug-related arrest, you could face a steep fine and possible jail time.
Free Initial Consultation with Lawyer
It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506