RI hotels seek more leeway to get rid of unruly guests

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You can blame the nationwide epidemic of incivility, rudeness, rudeness and bad public behavior for convincing Rhode Island hoteliers they need to be able to evict hostile guests.

That, or an obnoxious lawyer from New Jersey.

It was last August when the unidentified Garden State attorney, perhaps a bit of a travel grump, returned to his hotel after a day of sun and drinking on the streets of Newport.

It’s unclear what triggered it, but it quickly became “very belligerent and aggressive toward hotel staff,” Rhode Island Hospitality Association lobbyist Sarah Bratko told lawmakers in testimony. earlier this year.

“The [general manager] came out and told him he was going to have to leave tomorrow morning,” she said. “Then the next morning the guy came and said, ‘Actually, I’m a lawyer, …and here’s this law that says I didn’t do anything to kick me out.'”

It turned out he was right.

Update a law that limits evictions of hostile guests

But the incident united the state’s hospitality industry — already reeling from COVID shutdowns and an increase in anti-social behavior — behind the law change that clarifies when and for what cause hotel management hotel can make nightmarish guests dizzy.

They have called for legislation, slated for a vote by the state Senate on Tuesday, that would make the use of “verbally abusive language toward hotel employees or guests” grounds for eviction.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator for Providence Frank Ciccone, defines “verbally abusive” as “language that would reasonably be considered offensive, threatening or demeaning.”

Violation of a hotel rule posted on the hotel’s website would also be grounds for eviction.

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When can hotels evict guests?

As it stands, for a hotel to evict someone, a guest must have acted in a “obviously drunken manner”, destroyed or threatened to destroy hotel property, threatened to “disturb the public order” or brought contraband (drugs or firearms) to the scene.

The law limiting when hotels can evict guests was written decades ago to protect racial minorities from Jim Crow-style discrimination and denial of service, Bratko said.

“We just think it needs to be updated to reflect the realities of the modern world and to really prioritize the fact that the people who work in these facilities deserve to feel safe,” she said.

To avoid any rollback in civil rights abuses, a new version of the bill released in committee last week added a section saying it could not be “used as a pretext” to discriminate against people based on race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality. orientation and other protected classes.

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ACLU concerned about discrimination

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island argues that despite the new language, the bill is “certain to lead to arbitrary and discriminatory implementation against people of color, people of certain economic status and people living with behavioral health problems”.

“The law already gives hotels broad authority to deal with unruly guests, including those who ’cause or threaten to cause public disorder,'” ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown wrote to the Judiciary Committee. “But we are deeply concerned that the bill goes even further by allowing hotels to evict guests for holding ‘abusive verbal language’ toward employees or guests.”

“This broad and vague authority will almost certainly lead to arbitrary and discriminatory implementation,” he wrote.

The House version of the bill is sponsored by Rep. David Bennett, D-Warwick.

Although the incident with the New Jersey attorney sparked legislation, it was just one of many confrontations since the start of the COVID pandemic that the hospitality industry describes as a wave of attacks on workers services.

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“Please be nice” campaign

After a particularly unruly 4th of July last year, the Hospitality Association launched a “Be Kind” campaign to draw attention to worker abuse.

But the problems didn’t end in 2021.

David Smiley, general manager of Gurney’s Newport, said that over Memorial Day weekend his hotel experienced two separate incidents involving aggressive customers.

One involved three couples unhappy with the location of their rooms and upset staff all weekend until only managers were allowed to look after them.

The other saw a man refuse to pay for his poolside meal, then argue and “physically altercate” with a manager in the lobby.

Because it got physical, in which case the police were called, he said.

“If the bill passed, I could have approached the situation in a different way and avoided a physical confrontation with one of my managers,” Smiley said. “We see guests who are more compassionate, but when you tip the scales the other way, some really aren’t.”

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