Hotels are relatively off the hook when hotel staff rip-off hotel guests
(KUTV) Lisa Van Vliet is no stranger to staying in Utah hotels. She lives in Louisiana but visits her family in Utah often.
That's what Van Vliet says she was doing back in March when she checked into the Home 2 Suites by Hilton in Murray. It's a nice place, which weighed into her decision to stay there.
"I figured I would be safe," Van Vliet said. "It's a nice neighborhood. It's a nice hotel."
What happened next was not nice; Van Vliet was burgled.
"When I got back to my room one night, my property was gone," Van Vliet said. "My iPad, my entire bag of makeup, most all of my jewelry, and my wedding ring all was missing."
Van Vliet immediately contacted the police which opened an investigation. It turns out the alleged thief was an employee of the hotel: a maid responsible for cleaning Van Vliet's room.
Jacoy Kiter was arrested and has been charged with felony theft.
The hotel waived the cost of Van Vliet's stay but she says that's not good enough. She says Kiter made off with at least $3000 worth of her property that has not been recovered.
"It was their employee that robbed me, my room," she said.
She thinks hotels should be responsible for the actions of their employees.
According to Utah law, hotels are not off the hook but they aren't necessarily held accountable either. The law says that when a hotel guest is ripped off by an "innkeeper" or an "innkeeper's servant" the hotel is liable, especially if the hotel was "negligent."
One could certainly argue negligence in this case; a basic background check shows that Kiter has a long criminal record including burglary and theft. But even if negligence can be shown it likely won't make Van Vliet whole because the rest of the law says that, no matter how negligent the hotel may have been, a hotel is never responsible to pay more than $250.
After calls from Get Gephardt, Van Vliet says Home 2 Suites offered her the statutory limit of $250 for her loss. She says she's choosing to decline that cash and plans to pursue the matter further in court.
In the meantime, she's not taking any chances the next time she checks in for the night.
"I just stayed in a hotel not long ago and I took everything with me," she said. "I put it all in my car. I didn't leave anything in my room. I just took it all with me when I went."
Executive director of the Utah Hotel & Lodging Association Jordan Garn says he thinks the law limiting a hotel's liability is fair. It reasons he'd feel that way; it's his group that lobbied Utah lawmakers to make sure hotels wouldn't have to pay more than $250.
Garn says it's up to the consumer to make sure their stuff isn't stolen.
"In this day and age, people know that there's going to be people accessing their room," he said. "It's incumbent on the guest to take the necessary precautions to make sure that doesn't happen."
Garn says the limited liability also prevents hotels from facing bogus claims, for example when a guest loses something then tries to blame the hotel.
Consumer attorney Ronald Ady disagrees, calling the law, "Stinky."
Ady says hotels are plenty protected because a consumer has to prove the hotel was responsible for anything that goes missing, which is very tough to do. All this law does, Ady says, is protect hotels that may be sending criminals into your room.
"I just think it's a statute that protects the innkeeper and doesn't do much else, and I think that's very unfair," Ady said.
Hotel theft is no small thing in Utah. According to police records, people staying at hotels in Salt Lake City reported a whopping $638,250 being stolen in 2014. In popular tourist spot, Park City, police took reports of $8,793.99 being stolen from hotels. In Murray, where Van Vliet was ripped off, police records show hotel guests lost $58,556 in 48 separate thefts.
Each jurisdiction tells Get Gephardt that only a fraction of what is stolen from hotels is recovered.
Home 2 Suites does not offer in-room safes. They do offer safety deposit boxes behind the front desk.
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