The law relating to innkeepers may be considered under two heads – the duty of innkeepers holding hotelkeepers' or tourist-house keepers' licences to supply accommodation, meals, and liquor to the public; and the liability of innkeepers for loss of or damage to the property of their guests.
A licensed hotelkeeper or tourist-house keeper is obliged to provide accommodation and meals for travellers to the full extent permitted by the premises. Regular morning, midday, and evening meals of at least an hour's duration must be provided and there must be a notice showing the times of these meals. A traveller is, however, entitled to food and refreshment, not necessarily with personal service, at any time. Subject to the capacity of the premises, a person may be refused a meal or accommodation only if his personal cleanliness or condition, or his known character, conduct, or behaviour is such that there is reason to believe he is unsuitable to be received.
Hotelkeepers, in common with others licensed to sell liquor, may not refuse to admit anyone to, or order anyone to leave their premises, or any part thereof, because of race, colour, nationality, beliefs, or opinions. In addition to this, any adult has a right to obtain liquor in a public bar (but not elsewhere), except in certain specified cases, for instance, if he is intoxicated or disorderly.
Under the Innkeepers Act of 1962 an innkeeper is liable for any loss of or damage to property, other than vehicles or animals, brought to the inn by a guest, unless the loss or damage is caused by the guest's default or negligence, or by an act of God or the Queen's enemies, or by the guest's assuming exclusive charge or custody of the property. Liability is, however, limited to £150 in respect of any guest and £40 in respect of any article, unless the property is deposited for safekeeping. Within these limits an innkeeper is, in effect, the insurer of his guest's goods. He may also be liable without limit under the general law of negligence, for instance, where a guest's car is stolen because of an employee's negligence. In return an innkeeper may hold and sell a guest's property (again other than a vehicle or animal) in satisfaction of a debt incurred by the guest.
For the purposes of the Innkeepers Act, an innkeeper is anyone who holds himself out as offering sleeping accommodation, without special contract, to the travelling public. The term includes all hotel-keepers and motel proprietors, but not the proprietor of a private boardinghouse, who selects those whom he will receive.
by Bruce James Cameron, B.A., LL.M., Legal Adviser, Department of Justice, Wellington.