Safety Deposit Boxes and In-Room Safes


by Kirby D. Payne, CHA

More and more hotels are either using in-room safes for securing guest valuables or even foregoing having safety deposit boxes available for guest use at all. This is creating some confusion as to how to take advantage of the protection hotels enjoy under Innkeeper's Law regarding the loss of guest valuables.

In spite of the availability of the in-room safes, I believe a hotel must continue to accept and deposit valuables and to be prepared to, "give the guest a receipt for them" (the valuables). The passive in-room system is not covered by Innkeeper Liability if the Innkeeper does not comply with Minnesota Statute 327.71 in its entirety. In other words, a guest who loses his or her property in the guest room, whether they use the in-room safe or not, has a claim against the hotel if the hotel does not comply with all the details of the law.

The Innkeeper's Liability Law must be conspicuously posted near the front desk and on the back of the guest room door in Minnesota. (Some states require the law to be posted in the room and don't say where and don't require it to be posted in the lobby.) Failure to post the law as required means the hotel foregoes the protection the law gives.

At some hotels with in-room safes, as part of the registration process, guests are asked to initial a stamped area on the registration card without explaining its significance. This stamp explains briefly something about the in-room safes and a dollar key charge or deposit. The hotel then adds a $1.00 per night charge for the in-room safe to the guest's folio. The typical guest would not carefully read or understood what they are initialing.

The initials are the vehicle by which these hotels obtain the guest's authorization for the daily charge. None of the stamps I've seen are worded as releases from the Innkeeper's Liability Law. Even if they were worded that way, I am not certain that would stand up in court if the hotel did not comply with the remaining requirements of the law.

These hotels are sometimes instructing their front office staff to tell the guests that the $1.00 is "security insurance". The term "insurance" has a very specific meaning and the application of this $1.00 charge for the availability of the in-room safes is probably not related to any real insurance policy. To say these safes are covered by insurance, if they are not, is misleading.

To insure that the use of safety deposit boxes, in those hotels that have them, is adequately controlled, here are a few ideas to consider:

  • File the box record (signature cards) with guest folios rather than in separate file. This will cut down on guests checking out and forgetting they have a box. It also insures that only guests and employees have boxes.
  • File employees' box records with their personnel records. The General Manager or Controller should keep a current list of what boxes are assigned to employees.
  • Keys for unused boxes should be kept in the Front Office Cash drawer or some other locked place, not in the key holes.
  • Two or three employee safe boxes should be pulled and counted each month on a surprise basis to insure the boxes are correct and that no unauthorized items are in the box. 
  • Guests should be given privacy or a discreet distance when they are placing or removing articles from their box. 
  • I suggest that if your hotel has in-room safes that you maintain a few safety deposit boxes at the front desk so, that in addition to posting the law properly, you will have fully complied with the Innkeeper's Law.
As a final point remember, I'm not a lawyer so you should seek competent counsel on this subject from an attorney. Copies of Minnesota's Innkeeper Laws are available from the Minnesota Hotel & Lodging Association and its usually available in other states from that state's association. 

 

For additional information, contact:

Kirby D. Payne at the firm

American Hospitality Management Company
1500 South Highway 100, #375, Minneapolis, MN 55416
Phone: 763-591-7640 Fax: 763-591-1593

email: kpayne@american-hospitality.com


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