Guide

Legal requirements for tourism businesses

Tourist accommodation: responsibility for guest's belongings and luggage

If you run serviced accommodation, such as a bed and breakfast or a hotel, you must take responsibility for the safekeeping of your guests’ luggage. In some cases, you may even have the legal right to keep your guests’ luggage if they don’t pay their bill.

Your responsibility for luggage and belongings

If you run a hotel and have a guest for at least one night, you could be liable for loss and damage to your guest’s property. This will depend on certain factors:

  • You may not be liable where the loss or damage to the property is caused by the guest themselves or by an 'act of God' (eg a flood). 
  • You may be fully liable where the loss or damage to the guest's property is caused solely by your (or your staff’s) negligence or wilful act. You are also responsible if the goods are given to you for safekeeping. You are liable if you were offered the property for safekeeping and you refused. 
  • You may limit your liability by displaying a notice about loss of or damage to guests’ property. This applies when the loss or damage to the guest's property does not fit into either of the above categories. The notice must be in a prominent place near the main entrance or reception area. You may then be liable to pay damages of £50 per item and £100 maximum per person. This does not cover vehicles, any property left in the vehicles, or live animals. 

What if the guest did not stay overnight?

If your guest didn’t stay overnight and was, for example, simply visiting the restaurant or bar, you will usually be liable for the loss of or damage to your guests' property only if:

  • you or your staff have been negligent
  • the guest handed the property over to you for safekeeping

Your right to retain a guest's luggage

In certain circumstances, serviced accommodation providers may have the right to detain a guest's luggage. 

The owner of a hotel (as defined in the Hotel Proprietors Act (Northern Ireland) 1958) has the legal right to keep a guest's property until the guest settles their bill. This does not include the guest's car or property left in it; or clothes that the guest is wearing.

When the guest settles their bill, you must return the property to them. You cannot charge for storage. You must reimburse the guest if the property has been damaged while you had it. 

If the bill has not been paid in full after six weeks, you may sell the guest's property at a public auction, advertised at least four weeks in advance. If the sale makes more money than what is owed to you (including the costs of advertising and organising the auction), you must return the excess to the guest.

Another option for getting what’s owed to you is claiming it through the small claims procedure