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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Guest or Tenant?

The relationship between temporary lodging establishments and the landlord/tenant statutes, and why it matters.

Among property rights, the right to exclude is considered the most significant. Where a landlord/tenant relationship exists, the landlord’s right to exclude is predicated on the landlord’s obtaining a court order granting eviction against the tenant. Irrespective of the basis for eviction, the landlord must use court process (self-help is not allowed), incurring all of the corollary costs and delays that it entails. Importantly, however, many temporary lodging establishments are not subject to the landlord/tenant statutes. In particular, the landlord/tenant statutes do not apply to hotels, motels, resorts, boarding houses, bed and breakfasts, furnished apartment houses, or other buildings, so long as they are kept, used, advertised, or held out to guests “for transient occupancy.” 

The difference in treatment between a landlord/tenant relationship and a relationship involving a temporary transient occupancy matters a great deal. Among other things, where the guest is a transient occupant, the establishment has the right to immediately eject the undesirable guest so long as certain criteria are met. This allows establishments housing transient guests to bypass the significant expense and lost rental income associated with formal eviction proceedings. 

Sole residence presumption

Under Minnesota law, “transient occupancy” is defined as occupancy “when it is the intention of the parties that the occupancy will be temporary.” Perhaps surprisingly, where a unit is the guest’s sole residence, even if the lodging accommodation is a hotel or similar short-term lodging accommodation, the law presumes that the occupancy is not transient. In other words, where the unit is the sole residence of the guest, the burden of proof is on the lodging establishment to demonstrate the guest is not a tenant entitled to the protections of Minnesota’s landlord/tenant statutes. 

There is a dearth of Minnesota authority analyzing the difference between a landlord/tenant relationship and a transient guest relationship. An action filed in Anoka County District Court in February 2018, Lyles v. Woodspring Suites, LLC, 02-CV-18-733, provides guidance concerning the factors courts consider when analyzing this issue. In Lyles, guests of an extended stay hotel brought suit alleging that they had a landlord/tenant relationship with the hotel. The plaintiffs filed a “lockout petition” requesting an order placing them back into possession of the hotel unit. Plaintiffs sued under Minn. Stat. §504B.375, which by its terms applies only to “residential tenant[s].” The hotel argued that the matter must be dismissed because plaintiffs were not residential tenants; to the contrary, the guests were transient occupants to whom the landlord/tenant statutes had no application. 

The district court granted the hotel’s motion to dismiss, ruling that no landlord/tenant relationship existed. The court relied principally upon three factors. First, the plaintiffs had provided the hotel with a Minnesota identification card identifying what appeared to be a residential address. This cut against the notion that the hotel understood the plaintiffs were using the unit as their sole residence. Second, although the plaintiffs stayed at the hotel for slightly over a month, the original length of the plaintiffs’ stay was for a single night. Thereafter, extensions were granted on a weekly basis rather than the monthly basis generally associated with landlord/tenant relationships. Finally, each time the plaintiffs extended their stay, they executed an agreement stating that: 

I acknowledge and agree that I am a transient guest of this lodging establishment, and registration at this Hotel does not establish a permanent residence, household or dwelling unit. I further agree that no landlord/tenant relationship exists and landlord/tenant statutes are not applicable to my stay. 

For these reasons, the court determined that a transient guest relationship existed between the plaintiffs and the hotel. As a fundamental component of plaintiffs’ claims was lacking (viz., plaintiffs were not residential tenants), the matter was dismissed with prejudice. 

Lessons for lawyers

The decision in Lyles holds several important lessons for owners of overnight accommodations. 

  • Objective evidence of the parties’ intentions regarding the length of the guest’s stay will be given significant weight. In Lyles, the judge recognized that the objective evidence refuted the contention the plaintiffs were residential tenants. The plaintiffs provided a Minnesota identification card giving the landlord reason to believe the plaintiffs had a primary residence elsewhere. The lesson is that guests should be required to expressly identify their primary residence upon check in. 
  • In other cases, courts have ruled that agreements permitting a guest to reside in a unit for consecutive months counseled in favor of a landlord/tenant relationship. By contrast, in Lyles, the plaintiffs’ original stay was for a single night. Thereafter, only one-week extensions were permitted. The shorter the length of a residency extension, the less risk a court will later conclude that the extensions gave rise to a landlord/tenant relationship. 
  •  While the plaintiffs argued they had a subjective intention to make the hotel their sole residence, the plaintiffs repeatedly signed agreements acknowledging that they were “transient guests;” that the hotel was not a permanent residence and that landlord/tenant statutes were not applicable. The lesson: Disclaimers will be enforced and should be made part of a guest’s overnight agreement. 

Owners of temporary accommodations should assess whether their policies and practices could contribute to a finding that the accommodation is subject to Minnesota’s landlord/tenant statutes. The more explicit the intent to establish only a transient guest relationship, the more likely it will be that the owner can defeat any claim that landlord/tenant law applies.

 

BRYAN HUNTINGTON represented the hotel in Lyles v. Woodspring Suites. He represents landlords and tenants in both commercial and residential disputes throughout Minnesota.  

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