Florida hoteliers sue sheriff for pandering to deadbeat guests

Many hotel owners near Walt Disney World are getting a harsh wake-up call: broke guests who have worn out their welcomes (and wallets). When tourism faltered during tough times, these hoteliers opened their doors to struggling long-term guests — often for well below market value. Some of these deadbeat guests have incurred damages, or in one case, even assaulted a proprietor. One owner became unable to cover her mortgage and payroll due to the financial drain of these unwanted guests. These ersatz squatters may also be driving away paying customers, and generating wear and tear on the units.

Their obvious course of action, calling the local law enforcement agencies, proved worse than fruitless. Osceola County’s sheriff’s office has refused to cooperate with evictions, claiming that their hands are legally tied. The County Commissioner explains that the lack of area homeless shelters leaves them with no options; they are not allowed to force families with children into the street. And in many cases, these guests are using these hotels as permanent addresses for receiving mail, updating driver’s licenses, and registering their children in school, which complicates their removal. Nearly a dozen local business owners have filed a personal injury lawsuit with the county sheriff’s office, claiming negligence, failure to act, and even advising the deadbeat guests about loopholes in establishing residency, such as changing locks.

When these guests treat hotels as permanent residences, it creates a minefield of legal issues. Rather than simply removing a law-breaking customer from the premises of a business, hotel owners are forced to act as evicting landlords — without the protections of a lease. The plaintiffs claim that they are being forced into these lengthy, financially devastating evictions, and that non-paying guests are being given the same rights as legal tenants. The Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association has not taken a position on this issue, claiming that this is a local law enforcement issue, not an industry concern.

If you are a business owner who has been affected by complex legal issues such as abusive customers or law enforcement negligence, you may feel out of your league. A personal injury lawyer can help to recover your losses and restore the reputation of your business.

Orlando Sentinel, “Report: Osceola motels sue sheriff in dispute over customers who don’t pay” Sara K. Clarke, Jul. 25, 2013