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Employment and Labor Law
The methamphetamine addiction facing this country has no boundaries and has many innocent victims, including innkeepers who face mounting property damage, clean-up costs, increased workers’ compensation claims, and potential liability to guests from the use of motel rooms as methamphetamine (meth) labs.
Meth production can be on a large or small scale. While most meth today is imported to the United States for sale, small-scale meth production is still a widespread phenomenon. Meth cooks can set up an operation and manufacture the drug in as little as 12 hours. Meth producers use hotel rooms because they can produce their drugs, then leave the mess for others to handle. The byproducts of meth production come in two forms: the gas residue produced from cooking the meth, which seeps throughout the structure and sticks to all surfaces, covering the walls and ceilings, and penetrating the carpeting, bedding, and furniture; and the wastewater, which is poured into sinks, down toilets, or onto the ground. Exposure to meth residue is toxic and can cause long-term health effects.
Generally, innkeepers have the duty to exercise reasonable care to protect guests from harm. Liability will usually only result when a guest suffers harm that was reasonably "foreseeable." Essentially, if the innkeeper had prior warning of harmful activity, or knew or should have known of the activity, then liability could result. This means that the innkeeper should be watchful of what is happening on and around hotel premises. Innkeepers with long-term rentals should be especially wary of the potential for drug labs on site, and should understand the warning signs of a meth lab. Reasonable precautions to prevent this type of activity will help guard against not only the physical property damage, but also the liability to guests and employees who may be exposed to the meth residue.
Red flags that may signal meth production
Innkeepers should be aware of:
- Chemical containers or empty packages of cold medicines;
- Glass containers (such as jugs, jars, or beakers) with residue in them left in a room;
- Rooms with blocked vents;
- Discarded needles;
- Items out of place for no reason;
- Guests who pay in cash, have no photo identification, appear to be using drugs, and/or have a local address;
- Vans or trucks with chemical containers, like ammonia;
- Guests who are moving bulky or boxed items into a room;
- Requests for specific out–of-the-way rooms;
- Water running in rooms for a long time;
- The odor of chloroform, ammonia, cat urine, heavy perfume or other chemicals;
- Refusal of maid service; and
- Consistent requests for room service to be left outside the door.
Steps to reduce the risk of a meth lab on a hotel property
- Keep your hotel exterior looking clean and fresh;
- Require guests and visitors to use a main entrance;
- Cancel missing room keys immediately;
- Check rooms daily for cleaning purposes;
- Monitor your hallways and the outside of your building frequently; and
- Train your employees to recognize and understand drug-related behavior.
Awareness about the warning signs of a meth lab, and training employees to recognize these signs are the initial steps towards a meth-prevention program on your property. Liability to guests on your property can be reduced by showing that you took reasonable steps to detect criminal activity.