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192 hotels, motels still fight for rights over removing guests

Posted on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 at 2:49 pm

By Tiffanie Reynolds

Staff Writer

 The hotels and motels of U.S. Highway 192 don’t want to deal with unwanted guests on their own.

The 192 Hotel Motel Association, who filed a lawsuit against Osceola County Sheriff Bob Hansell last July for failing to take away unwanted guests, reopened the case in December. They sent an amended complaint requesting that the court hold Hansell to the rules of Florida Statute 509, the statute for lodging and food service establishments, which the hotels and motels in the association are registered under.

The association specifically states in their complaint that under statute 509, any guest that is unruly, disturbing other guests, illegally deals or possesses drugs or fails to pay can be thrown off the premises by the owner. It further states that if the guest does not leave, then the owner can call law enforcement to remove the guest and charge the guest with a second-degree misdemeanor.

But, since 2008, the association claims that there have been many instances when they called the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office to remove a guest, but the deputies at the scene did not. Instead, they told the owner that they have to file an eviction notice in order to remove the guest, because the guest claimed that the hotel room was their only residence. The hotel owners are then told that they have to remove the guest as a landlord, due to the guest claiming that the room is their only residence.

That is where the heart of this argument lies. Hotels and motels on the highway who are registered under statute 509 want to be treated under that statute. But, the Sheriff’s Office officials say that not every guest is the same.

“Anybody can say that they are a resident. Anybody can say anything. If I go to the Gaylord Palms for one night, am I a resident? But, yet, they’re telling us that anybody who comes for one night or more in my place is a resident, if they say they are. Just because someone says something doesn’t mean it’s true,” said Peggy Schandry, owner of Sevilla Inn and part of the 192 Hotel Motel Association.

In the formal response filed by Hansell to the association’s amended complaint, Hansell said that the part of statute 509 that addresses the removal of guests, section 141, is case specific. Just because the hotels and motels are registered and advertised as “transient,” or temporary, establishments doesn’t mean that the guests that stay in them also are temporary.

If the guest tells deputies that the room is his only residence, then deputies can no longer consider him a temporary guest, and the owner has to evict the guest as a landlord under Florida statute 83.

“Each situation is case-by-case, and depends on the facts present at the time a deputy responds,” Sheriff Hansell said in the document. “Further, that means that the statute affords the responding deputy a level of discretion in determining whether, on the face of a given situation, the guest is transient or nontransient. This is demonstrated most starkly by the fact that, if a guest were to state that the hotel room was his only residence, then a rebuttable presumption attaches that the guest is nontransient, which would render 509.141 inapplicable.”

Outside of official responses filed in the Osceola County Circuit Court, Twis Lizasuain, spokesperson for the Osceola Sheriff’s Office, said that the Sheriff’s Office does not comment on ongoing court cases.

The association, in its amended complaint, said that there is no law that overruns section 509.141 in Florida statute 509 if a person claims that the room is their only residence. Schandry said that the association continues to push the issue because they want to be treated as hotels and motels by the Sheriff’s Office, as well as treated with the same consideration larger and more expensive hotels in the area receive.

Both parties involved in the lawsuit are evaluating the amended complaint by the 192 Hotel and Motel Association and Hansell’s response. The case is currently ongoing.