THLA Legal FAQ:
With spring break, prom season, and graduations fast approaching, lodging operators often call us this time of year with questions about handling underage guests. This Q&A explains the law on renting to individuals who are under 18 or 21, and provides some best practices to avoid liability.
What is the legal age at which an individual may rent a hotel room?
Texas does not have any statutory provision on renting rooms to minors. However, you should check to determine whether your hotel brand has set standards for renting rooms to minors. Hotels are legally justified to refuse to rent to minors, on the basis those individuals under 18 years of age can void a contract and, therefore, cannot not be held responsible for their actions.
Furthermore, a hotel could adopt a policy of refusing to rent rooms to individuals under 21 or even under another age (such as 25 years of age), if the hotel has valid concerns about potential room damage, disturbances to other hotel guests, or underage drinking.
If a hotel decides not to rent to minors or individuals under 21 years of age (or another age), it is important that the hotel act in a manner that is consistent with the established policy. All guests must be treated the same, regardless of gender, disability, religion, race, and whether the hotel staff knows the underage guest or his or her family.
If a hotel does decide to rent rooms to minors, what steps can it take to protect itself against damage done to the property by the minor?
If a hotel decides to rent rooms to minors (guests under age 18), it would be well-advised to require an adult who is willing to be held responsible for the actions of the minor sign a contract. The responsible adult should acknowledge that he or she has the duty of control and reasonable discipline for the minor and assume liability for any property damage caused by negligent conduct or willful and malicious conduct.
For children under the age of 18, state law makes the parent liable for any damages to a hotel room in certain circumstances. Chapter 41 of the Texas Family Code establishes that a parent or guardian who has the duty of control and reasonable discipline of a child is liable for property damage caused by either negligent conduct of the child attributable to negligence of the parent, or the willful malicious conduct of a child who is at least 10 but under 18 years of age. However, it is still advisable to have an adult acknowledge this responsibility with a signed contract.
What steps should be taken to protect my lodging property’s interests when renting rooms to groups of minors with chaperons, such as high school basketball teams or church youth groups?
Lodging properties should require the adult responsible for the group to sign a policy statement, agreeing to provide chaperons, outlining the responsibilities of the chaperons, setting out rules of conduct for the group, and establishing that the group will be liable for damages. THLA has sample policies that can be used.
It is important that lodging properties apply such a policy consistently. All groups must be treated the same regardless of gender, disability, religion, or race. Visit the members section of our website, www.texaslodging.com , for a list of items you should consider including in your lodging property’s policies on underage guests.
Should additional precautions be taken if providing accommodations or facilities for a prom or graduation party?
A lodging property should consider hiring extra security personnel for these events. A property would also be well-advised to post the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission’s “Zero Tolerance” poster available at http://www.tabc.state.tx.us/publications/brochures/Zero.pdf or by contacting the TABC at (512) 206-3430. The TABC also has business cards available that a property may want to keep at its front desk with the TABC Underage Drinking Hotline number: 888.834.8222.
What is a lodging property’s liability regarding underage drinking?
Any activity relating to alcohol, which occurs on the hotel’s premises, with or without the hotel’s knowledge, could in certain cases impose liability on the hotel. If underage alcohol or drug use is discovered, the property should contact the TABC’s Underage Drinking Hotline, 888.843.8222. The TABC has contracted with a 24-hour answering service that ensures prompt referral to the appropriate local authorities for immediate response.
If the hotel evicts an intoxicated minor, police presence is a necessity. The last thing a hotel would want is an intoxicated minor who is evicted getting into his or her car and driving off. The police and parents can prevent that from occurring and relieve the hotelier from liability if an accident occurs.