California Short Term Rentals by Niyati Patel
California Short Term Rentals
by Niyati Patel
While hotels, motels, and similar lodging establishments are often designed to serve as short-term lodging for transient guests, California owners should be aware of their legal liabilities and obligations under traditional landlord-tenant laws. Typically, as a commercial establishment, hotel owners have the right to remove a non-paying or disorderly transient guest from their premises, granted the reason is not discriminatory in nature. However, these rights generally change for guests who pay to occupy a room for more than thirty days in a residential hotel. Under California Civil Code §1940, these guests gain the legal status of “tenants” and are entitled to traditional landlord-tenant protections including judicial evictions, notices for rent increases, and the right to repairs made to keep the unit safe and habitable. Hotel owners cannot contract around such rights, nor can they move, check out and reregister a guest before the thirty days to prevent the guest from obtaining tenant status. 1
While most hotels are not impacted by the law in practice, the industry is seeing a rising number of cases of guests not paying post the thirty-day mark. Because these guests have now gained tenancy rights, the hotel property owner can no longer self-evict them either by changing the door locks or removing the tenant’s belongings. If the hotel attempts a "self-help" eviction, the tenant can sue for damages.2 Rather, the hotel must first provide a three-day written notice to the tenant, then file a formal complaint and summons to start the unlawful detainer suit.3 Given the tenant does not contest the eviction and the hotel owner wins the lawsuit, the court issues writ of possession that orders the sheriff to remove the tenant from the hotel room, but gives the tenant five days from the date that the writ is served to leave voluntarily. If the tenant does not leave by the end of the fifth day, the sheriff can physically remove and lock the tenant out and take the tenant’s belongings that have been left in the hotel room. This process can be quite difficult for hotels to navigate and it takes at least several weeks, during which time the non-paying tenant can legally occupy the room. While the court may award unpaid rent, many tenants may not have the assets to pay the judgment and it may not be worth the legal fees for the hotel to pursue.
While a hotel establishment cannot legally prevent a guest from gaining tenancy status, it is important for hotels to be aware of their legal obligations as potential landlords and plan accordingly. There is a likelihood of an uptick in issues with the passage of the California Tenant Relief Act and the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many lower-income or homeless guests to stay in extended stay hotels for longer periods than expected.
1Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.1
2Cal. Civ. Code § 789.3
3CCP § 1161